Exclusive Interview with “grown-ish” Star da’Vinchi

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

AbrahamJuste-120417-154RTHigh.jpg

da’Vinchi might be new to the Hollywood scene, but he’s already started to make a name for himself as basketball star Cassius “Cash” Mooney on Freeform’s new comedy grown-ish. I got the chance to talk to the charming actor about why he recently changed his name, how he got started in the business, what’s coming up for his character’s relationship with Zoey, how he would answer a ‘u up?’ text and so much more. Read on to see all that he had to say!

da’Vinchi is a very unique name and I know you’ve recently changed it legally to that from Abraham. What made you want to change your name and why da’Vinchi?

Leonardo Da’Vinchi. A lot of people know him as just a painter, but he was not just a painter. He was a poly-man, which means he had many expertise; he was a mathematician, he was an architect, he was a sculptor, he was a painter, a scientist, music man, all these different things. A lot of times in the industry, when people see you as one thing they want to pigeon hole you and keep you there. I’m not just an actor. First off, I started off doing music and music segued into acting. I don’t only do those things either. There are so many other things that I do. That name is what represents me on a universal level, who I am. That’s why I got that name.

Aside from that, the name separates me from the corporate self. da’Vinchi is the corporate. He is the one who takes all the calls, does all the interviews, does photoshoots, shoots these projects and whatnot. Abraham is the one that’s under him. Behind the character Cash Mooney is da’Vinchi and behind da’Vinchi is Abraham and Abraham is more personal. People who know me on a personal level, they call me Abe or Abraham. I think it’s good to separate yourself from that facade, the industry, and your reality… I feel like if you don’t separate those two realities, it’s really going to catch up to you and it’s going to play with your head. It’s going to give you a slanted sense of reality, I think. It’s not like that for everyone, but I just think it’s good.

How did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?

When I was in college, I took acting as an elective. My professor was like, “Kid, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life right now, but you should stop and pursue acting, because you’re a natural at it and you have the ability to grab the attention of a lot of people.” I was like, “Oh, wow. Thank you. I appreciate that, but I hope you’re not just saying that.” He said, “No. I have no reason to lie to you.” Then I kept getting multiple signs from the universe telling me to become an actor and join this industry. I read the book The Alchemist and there is a quote in there that says, “When something is really for you, then the entire universe conspires into helping you achieve that goal.” A lot of people were pushing me towards this direction unknowingly, like even little subliminal jokes that they made.

I decided I was going to save a certain amount of money. I’m going to go up north and I’m going to start this career and pursue music. Then from music I can find a good acting class and do both at the same time. I started performing at Gloria Carter’s [Jay-Z’s mom] restaurant. There was a business manager there who told me I was talented. He put me in this music showcase and was like, “I think you should act as well. Whichever one takes off, it will feed the other.” Then he put me in Marc John Jeffries acting class in New York. He’s a professional actor who’s been in Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Notorious B.I.G., etc. He started training me at an affordable price and I trained with him for two years.

From there, I knew I needed to look for a manager, but I didn’t know how to find one. I didn’t want to force anything, because you’re never supposed to force anything. Just let the universe take the lead and God will just order your steps. At a showcase I was in, Lil Mama was opening and she was like, “Oh my God, kid. You’re so talented.” We were cool for about two years. Then she was like, “Fly out to LA. I want you to meet my manager.” I thought she wasn’t going to want to see me, because I didn’t have enough work under my belt. I was doubting myself and she was like, “No. You should come.”

I booked a flight and flew out there. Mind you, it was my first time ever being in LA. This was a big move… I came out, I met her and it was just love at first sight. It was great. She was willing to work with me and take a chance. She gave me the rundown, told me she was going to ship me to different agencies and that I might not find a good one for six months, but that’s okay. She shipped me to CESD and she told me they might not accept me, because they’re pretty big, especially for you. They were like, “Okay, we’ll give him a shot. Let’s see a self-tape.” I did that and they were blown. They were like we want to sign him right now, fly him back. I was confused about why I couldn’t sign in LA, but they were like, “LA doesn’t want you, New York does.”

I went back and signed. Right after I signed, two weeks later, I booked Marvel’s Jessica Jones. A month after that I almost had my own show. I screen-tested for MTV Stream, but I didn’t get it. They gave it to RJ [Cyler], who played the Blue Ranger in Power Rangers. They were afraid to put the money up, because I had never delivered on a level like that before. I kept getting pinned but never getting projects. Then grown-ish took a chance on me and now I’m here.

I was just going to ask about how you got involved in grown-ish. Specifically, what was the audition process like for that?

grown-ish was interesting. I was in New York and the producers for the show flew me out to LA to do a screen test. After they flew me out, they flew me back to New York. I was telling my agent that I wanted to go back to LA, because there was just something about LA., but they were telling me, “New York has more jobs for you. LA is just really bigger names.”

Then one day, I told them I was going to go to LA for like a week. I bought my ticket, but they didn’t know I didn’t buy a return flight. I knew something was going to happen when I was in LA. This was purely intuition. A lot of people thought I was out there because of the role and I booked it in New York. No, I booked it in LA. As my flight was landing in LA, my agency sent me an email telling me I had an appointment for college-ish/grown-ish.

I was like, “What the hell is that?” I did my research and realized it was the black-ishspin-off. I studied my sides… and then I went in the next day. I got the callback. Then I got the producer session, where I met Kenya [Barris]. I left and they pinged me and asked if I was willing to change my hair and shave, because I favored Trevor Jackson [who plays Aaron] too much. I was like, “Yeah, of course.”

I booked it and I was like, “Wow. That’s crazy.” It was just crazy. It happened fast, but not fast in a way. It was surprising, because I just didn’t expect it really. After auditioning for so many roles and just hearing “no” or “the producers are going in another direction,” you just do your best to not think about it. When you get the call that you got it, it’s just like “woah.” It’s shocking.

Were you a fan of black-ish before being cast on grown-ish? Were you an avid watcher or had you at least seen a couple episodes of it?

Honestly, no. I was not an avid watcher. I had probably only watched one episode. After I got the audition, and when I got the callback, I started watching the latest just so I could get a feel for the show, the direction it was going to go, how they played their comedy and stuff like that. Now, with season four of black-ish, I watch every episode, because it’s hilarious.

For people who might have never seen grown-ish, how would you describe Cash Mooney?

Oh man, Cassius “Cash” Mooney. [laughs] This guy is your typical good-looking college athlete. He doesn’t have the brains, which is why he needs a tutor. He’s handsome and has a charming smile. He’s really skilled at what he does and is most likely to be the number one draft pick in the NBA. Because he has so much going on in his life, he’s really indecisive about anything outside of basketball. He’s been molded his whole for just basketball. He’s literally “ball is life” for him and it kind of gets in the way of him making any other changes in life. It kind of even gets in the way of focusing in school, which is why he needs the tutor.

But you learn from the character. You learn how college athletes are treated, how it’s a huge profit margin for the colleges but not the athletes. It’s interesting. The show in its entirety, it lets you know what every type of student goes through in college: from athletes to bisexual kids, to individuals that are pro-black, to the people that are drug dealers, to everything. It just wraps it all up and it educates you on the matter. Not in a preachy way, more of in an entertaining, comedy way.

Going off the college athletes part and how they’re exploited, do you think your opinion on college athletes has changed after stepping into the shoes of one?

No, I’ve always known the reality of college athletes. I was an athlete as well, but I didn’t play on a collegiate level. I did play on a practice squad, but then I stopped because of my knee and [realizing] that it wasn’t my true passion. I was always well-educated [about] what college athletes go through.

Would you say Cash is more similar or different to the person that da’Vinchi is and why?

The only similarities we have are we look alike, because I play him. [laughs] The smile and he’s charming. He’s charming and charismatic. Other than that, our thinking levels are very different. He’s very immature. I’m more mature than he is. In real life, I don’t think Cash Mooney and da’Vinchi would be friends. We would know each other, probably play around in basketball and stuff like that, but he wouldn’t be someone I would invite to my house to have a serious conversation. If I ran into him at a party I would say, “Hey,” but we wouldn’t be friends.

The other big part of Cash’s storyline is his relationship with Zoey. This last episode [1×05] ends with them finally being on the same page with how they feel. What can we expect in terms of that relationship over the next couple of episodes?

They’re definitely about to go on a journey, because they know each other more on an intimate level. Because [the last episode] ends with them kissing, you’re definitely going to see them be more intimate. That’s one hell of a roller coaster, because they’re both kids and don’t know what the hell they want so… yeah.

What has it been like working with Yara [Shahidi who plays Zoey]?

Working with Yara is great. She’s an extremely smart girl, she’s well-educated. I learn a lot from her, because she’s been doing this for a long time. A lot longer than I have. Because a lot of our scenes are together, me and her, I just get to play off of her energy. She’s really funny. She’s got a great sense of humor, different from mine, but still very funny.

One thing I will say is that she’s so good at what she does. There are times on set where the directors will be doing something, like re-positioning for shooting, and she’ll give her two cents and they’re like, “She’s right. We should actually do it like this.” I’m like, “Damn, Yara. How did you…? What?” Like she’s giving pointers and they’re taking them. It’s crazy. Yara is a boss.

I have a few quick, fun questions to start wrapping things up. Someone on Twitter wanted to know if you could put together an ultimate starting five to play alongside Cash, which 4 other players would you pick?

Oh, that’s a good question. For the point guard, I would pick Kyrie Irving. I’m a shooting guard, so we don’t want another shooting guard. At the small forward, I would pick LeBron James. For the power forward, I would pick Draymond Green.

Oooh, that’s a great choice. 

Then, for the center, there haven’t been many good centers out lately. [pauses] I wish Shaq could come back.

You could put Shaq on it, go for it. Whatever you want.

Anthony Davis is kind of soft. [pauses] Dang it. I can’t think of any good centers right now.

I mean, if you don’t like Anthony Davis, you could just put DeMarcus Cousins or… 

Oh, I want Andre Drummond. [pauses] No, no, no, no, no, no. I’m sorry, I take that back. DeAndre Jordan. I would take him. Now I’m getting into it. [laughs]

You were talking earlier a little bit about your music. Do you have any plans for fans to hear some of what you’ve been working on? Who are some of your musical inspirations?

Definitely. I think towards the spring there will be some things out. I’m a perfectionist so I want to make sure it’s going to be good if I’m going to put it out! But the artists that I look up to: I love Tupac, love Tupac. I love Biggie, I love J.Cole, Jay Z, Drake. Drake is great. Drake is so versatile. The guy is amazing, he’s a living legend right now. He’s an alchemist; any track that he touches is just a hit.

grown-ish addresses this question in episode three so I’m going to ask it to you. What’s the best way to answer a “u up” text?

[laughs] Ooh, that’s a difficult question, because do you want to text them? Is this a person that you like, or is this coming from a person that you don’t? In the scenario with Aaron sending that message to Zoey, she liked Aaron, so if it’s at a time that you don’t want to hang out, I would just not respond. If the relationship is too early, then I would just ignore it. The phase that they were in in the relationship was too early to respond back to that, so I would have just ignored it. I would just wait til the next morning and be like, “Oh, sorry. I was asleep.”

That’s the go-to thing. Everyone should just wait ’til the next morning and be like, “Oh, sorry. I was asleep.” 

Yes, yes. If you guys are as new in a relationship as Aaron and Zoey, that’s how I would answer it. But there is a lot of variables with that question on how to answer it.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and I always like to end by asking: what is something that you nerd out about?

Oh my god. Like something I talk about and I just can’t stop?

Yeah.

Spirituality.

Okay. Meaning?

Just understanding the spiritual muscle in the human being where you use that muscle to control yourself and thats what separates you from being an animal. That’s what separates animals and humans, if you develop that spiritual muscle you can do things at a higher level. There are some human beings who are still living like animals, because they didn’t sacrifice a portion of their animality for their spirituality. So when it comes to that, I’m nerdy for that stuff. I won’t shut up.

grown-ish airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on Freeform. You can follow da’Vinchi on Twitter and Instagram.

Advertisements

Exclusive Interview with Zach Callison

Interview, Music, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

boy and girl.jpg

Fans might know Zach Callison as the voice of Steven Universe on the Cartoon Network show of the same name. Now Callison is branching out and releasing his own music. I got the chance to talk to him about knowing when he wanted to be a performer, the inspiration behind his single, “War!”, what he nerds out about and much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say.

Let’s just start at the beginning. How did you get into the world of performing and entertainment?

I really liked singing as a kid. My parents decided to put me in singing lessons at a local community college in St. Louis, where I’m from, when I was 7. That led me to musical theatre. I ended up auditioning for The Music Man, to play Winthrop. Did that with my dad. Then I spent a couple of years doing musical theatre and watching my dad perform in rock bands and such. Then I moved to LA to do the child actor thing, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years or so.

The inspiration for the music that is coming out now started about two years ago when I first got in the studio. I finally felt like I had something to write about, to use my piano and my singing for. That’s sort of where that came from.

Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew performing, both acting and music wise, was what you wanted to do for a profession?

Funny story. This was before I even did singing lessons. I was five years old, and we were on a company trip with my dad in Hilton Head, South Carolina. At the place we were staying, they had this children’s entertainer, who was this guy who played acoustic guitar and sang little songs like “Billy the Kid” and “Giant Purple People Eater” and entertained all the kids who were staying there. I went there one day, and I was totally enchanted by it. He asked kids to volunteer to come on stage and sing a song. My hand shot up in the air, and I was jumping up and down screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” I went up there, and I started singing the worm song, which is sort of a family tradition that was passed down from my grandfather…so I sang it. I got a bunch of applause and all the kids were laughing and enchanted. We were walking back to our room that night, and I told my mom I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. She asked me and I told her, “I want to be a star.” It’s super cliche and I have no memory of it, but I can point to that as the moment it all started.

I want to talk a bit about your music and especially your single, “War!”, I have to be honest when I say I’ve had it on repeat pretty much since it got sent to me. I think it’s so good. 

Thank you, thank you.

I’m just curious, what was the inspiration behind it?

That moment I was talking about, when I felt like I finally had something to write about, it came from being broken up with [my] first love…high school sweetheart. Not really knowing any other normal way that I could deal with that, I turned to writing songs. That basically became the small part of the wider concept of my EP that’s coming out ,and “War” is a big part of that. It was inspired because the person I had broken up with, she was also a singer, also had a bit of a public profile, and she was sub-tweeting me when I would call her. She would reject me, then tweet about it afterwards and get her friends to prank call me. Just all of this really childish stuff. I thought that the best way to respond was to get back up on my feet and write something calling her out for things. Particularly with “War!,” the fact that she was a singer, had been working on the same record for many, many years and hadn’t actually done the work to release it, it was sort of like a “Here is my music. Where is yours?” kind of thing.

I was also really inspired by the diss-track culture of hip-hop, people getting into battles, shooting tracks back and forth and seeing who could most eloquently get the upper-hand on someone. I wanted to release something that was so dominating, in that way, that it would be hard to top. As much as I would love to hear that, I don’t know if that will happen. [laughs]

Going off of being influenced by hip-hop culture, there is a lot of rapping on this track and you’re so good at it. Where did you learn to do that?

I’m most[ly] self-taught. The first song that I wrote for this project also has the first rap verse I ever wrote on it. I re-wrote it a bunch of times, so it is definitely not in its original form. When I first wrote it, it was not good. I ended up making tons and tons of song demos in my home studio and studying the greats from Kanye and Kendrick [Lamar] to old-school like 2pac and MF Doom, especially MF Doom. I love the way he does multi-syllabic rhymes and the advanced rhythm structure of his verses; it just blew my mind at what he could do and say in such a short period of time with his lyrics.

It was mostly study. I just had this fascination with the genre. I also had some friends around me that I discovered also had a love for hip-hop. My buddy, Noah Gary, who is an actor and makes a lot of hip-hop music as well, really got me into freestyle cypher culture and worked on that quite a bit, which helped. It was a combination of things, but really just the determination to not be bad at it and put in a record that I was comfortable with releasing.

As you mention studying different artists, this single features so many different styles of music. Beyond the hip-hop ones you just mentioned, who are some of your musical influences?

My favorite band of all time is Muse. Their older stuff for the darker, rock stuff and their newer stuff for the theatrical sound that they have. I really love the way that those two worlds meet. Twenty One Pilots is another big one. They were sort of my ambassadors to hip-hop. I didn’t really like rap and hip-hop before I listened to them. It was in sort of a way that I had never heard before, and it let me see what could be done with it outside of the genre of hip-hop. Once I heard them, I dived into actual roots hip-hop, and I found a love for it. There is some Red Hot Chili Peppers in there, there is some Stevie Wonder in the song. I really just love being a student of music, all genres, and really try to meld all the sounds that influence me into one, without any one being particularly recognizable.

You briefly mentioned earlier that, soon I’d assume, you’re going to put out an EP? 

Yeah.

Is it finalized enough to where you know how many songs are going to be on it and what fans can expect from it when it comes out? 

We’re mixing now. We’re pretty close to be[ing] done. It started out as a five track EP, and it still is, but it’s really evolved into this concept record. It’s less about a breakup and more about how someone deals with it in the scope of these two people have a public profile, people are watching this and how that changes things. I was really fascinated by the idea of a breakup being under that lens and also the responses to each others calls being in the public eye. Sort of like I mentioned with “War!”, and sort of the transformation that I underwent during that part of my life. It’s five full songs, but I’m also doing a lot of interlude tracks, so its coming out to be about 10 in the end, 30-90 second interludes that will help tell the story and flesh it out deeper.

It’s funny that you talk about it being a concept album because I had written down in my interview notes that on my first listen “War!” sounded like it could be a bigger part of a concept album. I think that’s cool that it’s actually going to be part of a concept EP.

Thank you.

How does that affect your writing process? When you wrote “War!”, was it first or did you write some of the other songs on the EP first? 

“War!” came later, actually. To give the fans a hint as well, “War!” is actually the final chapter of this story. I wanted to release it first because “War!” is the version of me that I’m living in now. The rest of the record is showing everyone how I got there and telling that part of my past.

[In regards to] the writing process, I love the idea of doing a concept record. I was really inspired by Kendrick [Lamar]’s last three albums, specifically because they get so specific. They dive into one issue or one part of his life, then flesh it out. I think he’s the greatest artist in the game right now and I wanted to do something like that. I just didn’t really know where to start, because I was so new to song-writing when I began. Once the songs started coming, I strategically picked certain ideas to work on because I knew they would feed certain parts of the story. I was still really focused on writing about one particular thing at the time, because it was all that was on my mind. The pieces of the puzzle came together later on and the interludes are sort of the glue that helps tell the story. The name of the record is A Picture Perfect Hollywood Heartbreak. It is, in the beginning, about the heartbreak, but the more important part is about the transformation of a person from one version of themselves to another. That was the story I wanted to tell.

It sounds awesome, seriously. Is it going to be a spring release or something later in 2018?

We’re thinking late spring. I just played my first show last night and got a really good response. We’re going to do some more of those beforehand and do some cool other sneak peaks for fans on my social media to get people hyped.

Was last night your first show ever,?

I’ve played quite a few shows. My bassist and I, actually, used to play in cover bands when we were 12 and 13. I had the musical theatre background too, singing and performing on stage. This was my first show playing my music, and it was my first on-stage live band show in six or seven years. It was definitely a coming of age for me in a special way. Overall, it went really well. I was nervous for it, but now I’m jazzed to do more of them.

Going off of finally playing your own music at your show last night, previously you’ve been featured on a number of soundtracks [including the Emmy-winning Sofia the First and Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume One]. How does that compare to putting out music that is all yours?

It’s amazing. It’s not just my first music, it’s my first project that I’ve written, produced, brought to fruition and promoted myself. As an actor, coming from that background, you’re always someone’s hired gun, working as their tool to finish their vision. There’s definitely room for personal expression , having fun, but ultimately it’s a collaboration. With this, I was really in the driver’s seat and able to rep my own vision. That’s all I want to do now. I mean, of course, I still want to work on other people’s projects,  collaborate, be an artist in that way, but I really want to make more of my own content, whether it’s music or television.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you some Steven Universe questions. 

[laughs] Of course.

There are new episodes coming out in April, right?

The timing lined up, didn’t it?

What can fans expect when the new episodes come out?

You know it’s a strange time on Steven Universe right now, because of all this home world drama that just happened. Nobody really knows exactly where it’s going and there are some strained relationships back on Earth. We did get to watch some of the final cuts recently with someone from Make-A-Wish and the Cartoon Network. That was cool. It’s not often that we get to all get together and watch the show. The episodes really are awesome. There are some that are particularly heartfelt, that are focusing on the relationships between the characters. I’m really excited for people to dig into that.

One of the cool things about Steven Universe is how it uses music as a narrative device. As someone who is now pursuing music on his own, what have you learned from producing and singing on those tracks for the past couple of years?

It’s been an incredible lesson. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Rebecca Sugar’s influence on me as an artist. Mixing mediums so much, creating a cartoon musical like she has, it was really inspiring to see her breaking ground on something that, not only is breaking genre boundaries, but also social and cultural boundaries. I’ve always said being an actor and [essentially] a hired gun, sometimes you just walk into the studio and do your thing. With Steven, there’s never been a more artistically fulfilling project to work on for me as an actor. Working with Rebecca and her team has been very important. Watching her hustle, working nights and weekends, making sure not just everything with the show is in line as it should be, but the video games, the comics, the universe around the show is cannon and all feeds into each other. That’s been really inspiring to see as far as work ethic goes.

Have you gone to her for any advice about your music specifically?

Yeah, actually. The first song that I finished a demo for, about a year and a half, two years ago, I sent straight to her. She gave me a round of notes on it. She liked it, but she definitely had a lot of constructive criticism of it and it definitely needed it. I took a lot of that, changed up a lot of that song and now I have the version that’s going to be on the album. She messaged me about “War!” and we talked about it because we saw each other in person a few days after the release.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something you nerd out over?

Oh, man. A couple things. Within fandom culture and my connection to that with all these video games, I love Mass Effect. That’s my video game that I dive into when I want to pull the blinds on the windows and disappear for a couple of days. That’s my favorite science-fiction universe ever. Over Star Wars, over Star Trek. I just love how rich it is and the variety you get with a game like that from BioWare.

The other thing, that is not even, really, totally related, that I nerd out about is baseball. I’m of the opinion that its the nerdiest sport, because of the amount of math and statistics involved. That’s my fascination with it, the amount of rabbit holes you go down with comparing statistics, finding oddities and historical firsts that happen almost every week, because of how much crazy stuff you can get into with the math and because of the way the game is structured. I’m a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan.

That was going to be my next question. Being from St. Louis, that makes sense.

More than any other city in America, I think, baseball is life to St. Louis citizens. Being a Cardinals fan is like religious doctrine there. It’s super important.

Were you a math person growing up? 

Funnily enough, no, not at all. I was good at math when I was in first grade, second grade. Then once multiplication got involved, something went haywire. [laughs] Even still, it’s more about statistics for me. I leave the math to the really talented statisticians who follow the game. I like comparing stat lines, lining them up against each other and looking at different stats to evaluate a player, because no one stat tells the whole story. There’s a whole new field of sabermetrics that are so advanced that you could just do it forever.

Sabermetrics blows my mind. I’m much more of an NBA fan, but I’m with you on liking stats and seeing trends. It’s become one of my favorite parts of watching sports.

For sure. You can do it with games like basketball too. With like exit velocity on throws, and hits in baseball or route efficiency. They can track how guys move across the court or across the outfield, if their lagging behind and making poor split-second decisions. It’s so bizarre how psychological these numbers can get.

“War!” is out now on iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music. You can follow Callison on Twitter and Instagram.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Exclusive Interview with Chicago Med’s Marlyne Barrett

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

Eli-Nichol-Head-Shots-_-Marlyne-Barrett-240-Edit-e1517003560761.jpg

On Chicago Med, Marlyne Barrett plays Maggie Lockwood, the head charge nurse in the emergency department of Gaffney Chicago Medical Center. I got the chance to talk with Marlyne about how she initially got the role on Chicago Med, what fans can expect from the rest of the current season, her foreign film obsession and much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!

Before we talk about the current season of Chicago Med, let’s go back to how you got the role in the first place. You had been a part of Dick Wolf’s world before, by making appearances on Law & OrderLaw & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law & Order: Trial by Jury before. But what was your audition process for Med like? 

Yes…. I had taken some years off from acting, because of an unfortunate personal tragedy that had happened in my life. I often thought that I was going to not return to acting after, unfortunately, an assault that had happened to me.

When returning back, one of my first jobs was on American Crime and then the year after that I was offered this job by the Wolf Pack. Wolf Films is what we call the Wolf Pack. It had always been one of my dreams to work with Dick Wolf and Peter Jankowski.

It’s a combination of what I call a divine appointment in time, what I call a kairos time, and just destiny opening up, because I don’t know how they knew I was available. I had auditioned for some spots on Chicago P.D., but by no means did they know I was available for full time, let alone for full-time as a charge nurse and ready to move to Chicago. They had as much faith as I did.

You mention auditioning for guest spots on Chicago P.D. So were you on their radar and they reached out to you or you heard about the role of Maggie and sent in audition tapes? How did you actually get the role of Maggie?

I was on their radar for a job on P.D. and they pulled the offer. They said, “No, we want you full-time on Med.” That happened within a span of three days. Within three days I was told I was relocating to Chicago for an undetermined amount of time.

I remember the first phone call was on a Wednesday or a Thursday, and Labor Day was happening that weekend. Sunday, I took a flight. Labor Day, I rested in Chicago. Tuesday morning, I was at my first medical practice.

Wow. That’s so fast.

Oh, yes. And the whole shock of the situation. I remember I was in Los Angeles and I was going to have a Labor Day party on Monday, which my husband still had and I wasn’t there. But the shock wasn’t just…it was meeting so many different people, the locations, everything, everything about the Wolf Pack team, because Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. already had their crews there and they just embraced us and made it feel like home. It was easy, an easy transition.

You came to Med with quite the medical background; your mother is an ICU nurse and your sister is a doctor, you went to school and received a degree in nursing before going on to pursue acting. 

I did, I did.

Because of that, did you ever feel like your medical background was an advantage and still is an advantage? 

I did, actually, because I knew what I wanted to portray on screen, because the medical institution is such a prominent figure in my family upbringing that we have honor for it. My mother is an ICU nurse, my father is a medical engineer, my sister is a pre-med student who went on to pursue law, I have a nursing degree, my aunt works for Kaiser, so it’s everywhere in my family. We have enormous respect for the medical institution. It’s probably the most constant thing in your life. You have to eventually see a doctor at some point in your life.

Having immense respect for the nurses and doctors in this country, I don’t necessarily appreciate the business behind health, meaning the drugs, how they pay the doctors and nurses.

Although, compared to PD and Fire, we haven’t seen that many episodes of Med due to the season’s late start, I feel like the show has come out of the gates really strong and is poised for a breakout season. How do you feel about Season 3 and do you think the show has changed from the past two seasons?

Yes, I think this season is rich. I think we’re hitting the marrow of what this cast and production company are able to put together. I think we’re able to go down as one of the great shows of healthcare, because of the parallel between what it takes to be a great healer and how to balance your life. I think, contrary to the other shows, we’re exploring, at a slower pace, this idea of the constant in our work relationships. Why am I disagreeing with Dr. Halstead again? Why am I disagreeing with Dr. Choi this time? Does Maggie know how to take care of her personal needs in order to be an efficient caregiver? Does it make me a better person now if I fall in love with someone or is my loneliness affecting my long hours? We explore all of that.

On top of that, Chicago Med is set in one of the most dangerous cities in the country: downtown Chicago. It’s not Houston with its hospitals that deal a lot with cancer patients. No, it’s gunshots and stabbings and car accidents and mental disorders. It’s just non-stop drama.

Maggie has now been the longest role you’ve had. What have you learned from playing her for so long and how do you feel like you’ve seen this character specifically grow over the past two seasons?

I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is to slow down the pace of my exploration of a being. I think one of the greatest things I learned from some of the greats is that you can never get tied to getting to know someone. If you ever think you’ve figured out a human being, no matter how much you feel like you’ve known them, there is always a deeper process in their current life exploration. Yesterday has affected them into a greater way of living or of compromising, but you can never fully know them.

So I don’t think I necessarily explore Maggie as a Marlyne that I’ve lived so many years of my life. I explore her as someone who has multiple faces to an octagon. Even if I think I’ve seen all eight faces, suddenly one of those faces develops a new eight faces. I think its the idea that you’ve never figured [out] a human being. I think I’m like that with my friends and family, when you allow people to change in front of you. I have a lot of long-term friendships, because I’m allowing people to change and also have a great expectation for change.

Would you say that Maggie is different/similar to the person that Marlyne is? How so?

She’s completely different. Maggie is a local Chicagoan. She loves her town and I doubt she would ever move from there. She believes in helping this city become a place that she’s hoped and dreamed it would become all her life, a multi-cultural place. I’ve often said that Maggie’s grandfather was there when Martin Luther King Jr. marched and said, “If you can take Chicago, you can take any town,” and that Maggie has become one of the people that takes Chicago. She learned that from her grandparents, because she was probably raised by her grandparents, because her mother had to work all the time, because her father walked away from her and then her mom passed-away from over-exertion and working all the time. That’s some of the storylines that I’ve been given, as the actor, by the writers, about my mother. I just saw that in the construct of Maggie.

Marlyne is so international, so patient, would probably never, ever pursue nursing, loves people. That Maggie and Marlyne have in common, loving people. Maggie never has time to sit and have conversations, she’s always trying to walk away. While Marlyne loooooves long dialogue with her friends, she will stop what she’s doing, sit down. Maggie doesn’t have many family members that are left. I have an extended, wide family that’s left. I’m really close to my sisters. I think there are a lot of things, outside of the fact that we’re both chocolate, that we don’t have in common.

We haven’t seen too much focus on Maggie so far this season. But from what you’ve filmed so far, are we going to get deeper into her personal life this season?

Definitely. I think Maggie is one of those slow burns. When you have a show with nine cast members, you have to have a couple of characters that are slow burns. Sometimes shows decide to add a cast member at the beginning of season three, and I saw Maggie as that, more this added cast member that they would start exploring in season three, which is something I perceived that they had to do because of all the doctors that we had and all the staff members that we had. Maggie is this great secret of Chicago Med that is about to be explored and be expanded on over the next couple of years, starting this year. You just have to keep some pieces in your back pocket.

Maggie is the head charge nurse in the ED so she has a little bit of a hand in helping everyone else out with not just their patients but also with their personal lives. I mean she really holds the doctors together and is an integral part of the show. Because of that you get to interact with all of the other doctors and help them out with not just their patients but also their personal lives. What’s been your favorite storyline of someone else’s that you’ve gotten to be a small part of either this season or just in general?

I actually have two. Dr. Halstead and Maggie have a really great brother-sister friendship. I think Dr. Halstead’s transition into becoming an Attending and learning how to let go of his stiffness to get to know Dr. Manning has been a great process for Maggie, because of the relationship she has with Dr. Manning. But also the relationship she really has with the idea of working, working, working, working, working and never doing the self-exploration that needs to be done in order to enter in a relationship. I think Dr. Halstead represents the other side of the pole.

Then there was the whole storyline with April. Maggie really watched April with her pregnancy and really wanted to be there during the birth, the way she was there for Dr. Manning, but it turned out to be her being there for a friend as a loss happened. I think that was a great place for Maggie to be. Now she’s watching April, in more of a sisterly way.

One of the questions we got from Twitter: are there any Maggie and Sarah scenes coming up?

Actually, there is. Sarah just lived some pretty intense times. It’s funny, because Rachel [DiPillo], who plays Sarah, and Marlyne have a really great relationship and we always wonder those things. I think Sarah is at a place where Maggie is watching her collect herself, it’s like PTSD. Sarah watched a father-figure get shot and Maggie knows that she needs to grow up from it. Trauma happens in a hospital, and I think there is an inevitable moment where Maggie is going to have to comfort her in a way where, if you’re going to be in a metropolitan city, you’ve got to get over that. So there’s a scene coming up for that.

Going off of that, is there anyone you haven’t worked with a whole lot that you would like to have a scene with in season 3?

I think I would start with Rachel on our show, just like someone mentioned. But if we’re talking about crossing over, I would have to say Jason Beghe, who plays Voight. It always works out to be some great movie magic when you have two strong personalities together. I did some really great stuff with Taylor [Kinney] last year on Chicago Fire. I think Severide is a really great friend of Maggie’s. I’ve had some nice work with Monica [Raymund]’s character. Oh, I’m trying to think. [pauses] Paddy [Patrick Fluger]. Mr. Swagger, himself.

Another question we got from Twitter: Are we gonna see more of Maggie’s relationship with Barry?

Standby and yes…. We’re about to air episode 7 and it just keeps going from there.

I always like to end with: what is something that you nerd out over?

Foreign films.

What’s your favorite one?

Right now: a Korean film called Villainess. I think I’m a nerd over great action sequences. Bad-ass women doing bad-ass stuff. This chick, let me explain what she did. This chick went into someone’s house and proceeded to try to kill him silently in his sleep. Unfortunately, she made a little bit of noise so about 20 people show up out of nowhere. After running out of bullets, in both of the guns she had available to her, she had to use her sword, which she figured she should make sure she takes with her, after they follow her to her motorcycle. As everyone is speeding down the road they’re in tunnels sword-fighting with this chick as she’s trying to avoid trucks and cars and still [she] arrives home to take care of her kids. Point-blank, finished, done. When I saw that sequence, I think I almost shed tears. My reaction was, “Well, I was available to do it. Why didn’t anyone call me? [laughs]

I also love all foreign stuff, in general, on Netflix, Amazon. If, God forbid, that I love a show, I will re-watch the show right there, the entire series, as if I’ve never watched it. I just love story-telling. I’m an intense nerd about it.

Is there anything on Netflix that you would recommend?

La Casa de Papel, which is a Spanish show. Spanish meaning from Spain. The third season of Narcos. The second season of The Crown. A French tv show called Ten Percent. Mindhunter is a must.

That’s what I’ve been hearing!

Girrrrrl, be ready. David Finch got problems. There are some people that you ask yourself, “Do you think he sleeps at night?”

And he’s one of them?

Oh, my god. Everyone who can get past the first scene of the pilot episode. It’s fantastic. It’ll get you right away, because you’re like, “Holy Toledo. What are they talking about here?”

But what I’ve just given you there, this is outside of Stranger Things, obviously, and hopefully people are watching Dark, which is a German television show. It’s kind of like Stranger Things for adults. What I mean by that is I think Stranger Things can be watched by adults, but I think Dark is specifically made for an adult perspective. There’s no 80s music to entice you more, there’s no kid banter. It’s darker.

That is my list that everyone can bite onto for the next six months, but I would watch all of that in the next two and a half weeks, max, if that was me.

You can watch Chicago Med at 10 pm EST on NBC. You can follow Marlyne on Twitter and Instagram

Exclusive Interview with The Mayor’s Bernard David Jones

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

6AndreLPerry.BJTheActor

Bernard David Jones might not be a name you recognize, but chances are that you have seen his face before. Jones has a career that has already spanned a lot of different roles on a wide variety of mediums. He got his first big break in television appearing as ‘Milo’ on Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns and House of Payne. He’s also done a little bit of film work, starring in The Lookalike opposite Justin Long, Jerry O’Connell and Gillian Jacobs. He’s even starred in Refinery29’s YouTube series Shitty Boyfriends opposite Sandra Oh. Now, Jones has gotten his first ever regular role on a television show, starring in ABC’s new fall comedy The Mayor. Jones talked with me about how he got his start in acting, how he would describe his new character, Jermaine, which real life rapper would make the best politician and so much more. Keep reading to see his answers.

How did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?

For sure. I think it all started, like for a lot of black artists, in the church. That was my first audience, so to speak. [I was] singing in the choir and transitioned into the Easter plays and the Christmas plays. That led me to where I am today, thinking, “Hey, I actually love doing this. This is a lot of fun. And I can get paid doing it? Absolutely.”

Did you have any formal training? Did you study it in college or did you start your acting career right out of high school?

When I was younger, I was a part of a performing arts troupe and that led to me going to a performing arts high school in Patterson, New Jersey and from there I went to Morehouse College in Atlanta and got my degree in acting.

You’ve had a lot of different types of roles on a lot of different mediums, from television to film to stage to YouTube. Do you have a personal acting “bucket list” of things you still want to accomplish in your career? If so, what are some of the things on it?

[laughs] This is going to sound weird, but I’m going to say it anyway: I want to be a vampire. But like the oldest living vampire known to man that just looks young. Like that is a dream role for me. So whoever can write that, think about me when you do.

[laughs] What is it about vampires?

I don’t know! It’s just like they’re mysterious, they’re sexy, they’re strong. They dress well for the most part. They’re dark and edgy. I play nice guys, for the most part, so it would be fun to play something dark.

Which role that you’ve played do you think has had the biggest impact on your life and has maybe changed you as a person and why?

I think for me it was my first professional gig. I did a show at the Alliance Theatre which was called Class of 3000: Live with Andre 3000. That was the moment when I realized I’m a professional, like this is my job. Having that company, the Alliance Theatre, give me this role, I was like, “You know what? This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.” And I’ve been pursuing it ever since.

Moving on to talk about The Mayor, how would you describe it for people who aren’t familiar with it?

I would describe it as fun, family comedy that addresses political issues from a non-partisan lens. So it’s fun, but it’s for the people who enjoy politics, the people who enjoy the underdog/fish-out-of-water story. I think people will love the fact that this guy actually cares about his community and cares about the constituents there and I think that’s something that our country needs.

How did you get involved in the show? What was the audition process like?

It was during pilot season. For actors, during pilot season, you’re getting a lot of stuff in, just auditioning and auditioning and auditioning. I remember getting the script and reading it and immediately knowing that it was important, that the story was important and that I wanted to be a part of it. I told my agent, “please get me in for this. I would love to do this.” And they got me in for an audition for Jermaine and then I remember, during my audition process, I did my audition and the casting director was like, “Well, I don’t know about Jermaine for you. But let’s try the other character.” And I was like, “Okay!” So I ended up auditioning for TK as well. But my manager and my agents were like, “Let’s get you back in there to audition for the role that you originally auditioned for and let the producers see it and see where it goes from there.” So I was able to get back in and audition and show them Jermaine again and they liked it and, now, here we are!

You kind of touched on it a little bit earlier, but how do you feel about taking on a politically flavored show at this time in our country’s climate?

It’s truly been an amazing experience so far. It’s been a joy to talk about issues that I care about because even before the show, I’ve been very in-tune to our political atmosphere; I’m listening, I’m reading articles, I’m watching the news. But I think because of the way our country is right now, a lot of people are more aware of what’s going on and are more interested in government and trying to figure out what they can do to make their communities better. I think that’s kind of how I came at it. I’ve always been politically aware, but this show has definitely sparked it into a new interest and the fact that we can show these characters that love each other, first and foremost, but also love their community and the constituents that are a part of that community and to show America Tuesday night after Tuesday night what it looks like for a leader to actually care about the community is priceless. This leader doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s not a politician. But at the forefront of all his endeavors is to make the community better and I love that.

How would you describe your character, Jermaine?

Jermaine is very interesting; I love Jermaine. At the core, he’s all about love. He loves his friends and his family, his friends are his family and he loves them so much. That was one of the things that drew me to the character in the first place. He’s kind of like Courtney’s voice of reason even though sometimes his advice can lead to bad decisions [laughs]. But it’s always well-intentioned. He’s a snazzy little dresser; he takes his fashion pretty serious.

I think what also makes our show pretty special is that these characters want to work and they are serious about their jobs. It’s not these guys get into the office and just goof around. They really take their job seriously and I love that about Jermaine; he takes his job seriously.

Would you say that Jermaine is more similar or different to the person that Bernard is and why?

We’re different in ways and we’re alike in ways. The things that I mentioned was leading with love and that’s what I try to do in my own life is lead with love and to love on people and to recognize people’s humanity and I think Jermaine does that as well.

How we differ [laughs], Jermaine is a little shadier than I am. He doesn’t like old people, he doesn’t like children. He’s a little shadier than I am for sure.

I love this cast a lot because there is newer faces like you and Brandon [Michael Hall] and Marcel [Spears] but then there is also some Hollywood vets like Lea [Michele] and Yvette [Nicole Brown]. What is it like working with everyone, because you all come from such diverse backgrounds, but you all seem to get along so well?

Yeah, I think that the fact that Marcel Spears and Brandon Michael Hall, we’re all experiencing this first together and that has made the journey even better. I mean, it’s a first for all of us in a way. For Marcel, it’s his first show ever, this is Brandon’s first leading role, my first regular series role, first time Yvette has had such a leading role on a show, this is the first role that Lea has had away from the Glee franchise, or should I say away from Ryan Murphy. So we’re all experiencing a first. I think that’s what has drawn us together and has made our chemistry so good because we genuinely enjoy each other. We have fun. Our set, Yvette, she made it very clear that our set was going to be a set of love and that we’re going to love on people when they come and visit us and we’re going to make sure that when people leave The Mayorthat they know that they were appreciated and that their talent and gift was loved and needed and appreciated. We did that early on and that’s the kind of atmosphere we set and have tried to maintain all season.

I figured I would wrap up our time with some more fun questions. Your character Jermaine is Courtney’s communications director and he is always posting stuff on social media. What’s your favorite social media platform and why?

I really love Instagram. I love being able to see how people, even though Instagram is sometimes your highlight reel and you only show the good things that are happening, I love to see how people express themselves and see when people take pictures of the environment that they are in and how they view life from their perspective. I think it gives everyone an opportunity to be artistic, even if you don’t think you are, you can be artistic and I love that. And also being able to connect with people, having hashtags that you can click on and see the people that are participating in that particular hashtag, I really love Instagram for that.

What real-life rapper do you think could have the best career in politics and why?

Oh come on, you know Chance the Rapper would be an amazing mayor.

Yeah. He’d be my number one choice.

He would be so good for Chicago, the commitment to the city and the people and using his platform. That’s what is so important, when you get a platform, and that is why the show is so important to me because it gives you a platform, but it gives you a platform to do some good in the world and I think Chance has done that with his platform, speaking out against things that need to be spoken out against. I think he would be a great mayor.

Since music plays such a big part of this show, who are some of your favorite musical artists and bands?

I’m all about R&B/soul. Jazmyn Sullivan is one of my favorites, P!nk is one of my favorites, John Legend, I love Adele, Sam Smith. There is so many; I love music so much. But then sometimes, I like to turn up a little bit. I’ll listen to Migos [laughs] and I will listen to hip-hop. I’m pretty eclectic. I’ll listen to Alabama Shakes.

We’re called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something that you nerd out about?

I nerd out about gadgets. So like getting the iPhone 10 and I have this EchoDot so I have to get all the accessories for the EchoDot so that I can try to figure out how to get Alexa to order me a pizza [laughs]. I’m into gadgets. I love it.

The Mayor airs Tuesdays at 9:30pm on ABC. You can keep up with Bernard by following him on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo Credit: Andre L. Perry

Exclusive Interview with There’s… Johnny’s Camrus Johnson

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

Camrus.jpg

Camrus Johnson is an up-and-coming actor and writer whose name you won’t want to forget. As someone who has had a hand in all kinds of on-camera media, his resume already speaks for itself. Johnson is starring in his biggest project yet as Rasheed Miller in Hulu’s There’s… Johnny. I got the chance to talk with him about his path to becoming an actor, his new role, his recent binge of Black Mirror and so much more. Read on to get to know him better.

How did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?

Yeah, I’d say so. When I was 16, I was in my second year of acting in high school and I went to this thing back in Georgia called the Georgia Theatre Conference. And it was this sort of…this conference or event where high schoolers get to learn more about acting, get to perform, meet other actors from other high schools. But the biggest part about it, at least what stuck out to me the most, was getting to audition for colleges. So there was a part of GTC where we got to audition for 17 colleges. I had been acting for a year, year and a half by then. I got 14 out of 17 callbacks which was one of the highest, if not the highest, number in class. After sort of thinking that acting might not be a viable career and that I don’t know if I can actually make it and live as an artist, I got the 14 callbacks and was like “maybe I can do this.”

So did you end up studying acting in college? Or did you go straight out of high school into your career as an actor?

It’s funny, I went straight out of high school. I was going to go to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. Out of all the 14 schools I had a callback for, that was one of them and they interested me the most. They were very approachable, they were very friendly, one of the teachers was an actor in the show George Lopez, which I used to watch as a kid, so it sort of made sense. Then my great aunt, my grandfather’s sister, called my father just asking about us kids and he told her that I was going to go to school for acting. She was like, “Oh, well if he wants to be an actor, he should just move to New York. Why is he going to go to Georgia?” And I was like, “Okay.” So I did that. And I was going to live here in New York for a year first, and then go to school after that, but in that first year I just decided to keep doing what I’m doing because I was learning as I was auditioning, and I tend to be a better learner on the job than in a classroom setting anyway. So I decided to skip the whole school thing, unless something were to happen and I wasn’t booking anything and I needed to learn. But I liked how I was learning in the streets and on set.

And you’ve been in New York ever since?

And I’ve been in New York ever since. Five years.

You just mentioned how you like learning on set rather than a classroom setting. So kind of going off of that, you’ve worked with a lot of professionals. What would you say is some of the best advice about the industry you’ve ever received and why? 

Oooh. I love that question [laughs]. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received…I’d say it was earlier in my career and someone told me that I have to be my own number one fan. Because in this industry, people will be there for you but at the same time no one is going to help you if you don’t help yourself. If you go in for 50 auditions and don’t get a callback for a single one of them, it will hurt and make you feel like you’re not good and that you shouldn’t be doing this. But an older actor, years and years ago, I can’t even remember who it was, told me that you have to be your number one fan. Because if you don’t have confidence in yourself, there’s no reason that everyone else should have confidence in you. So whenever I would go to those twenty auditions and I wouldn’t book one, I would keep telling myself, “It’s not on you. It could be any other thing. It could be another actor, it could be the director, it could be anything.” So I just had to keep reminding myself that, no matter what, as long as I keep cheering myself on it will make other people want to as well.

You’ve been at this for five years, but what are some of your biggest goals in acting right now? Do you have a personal acting “bucket list?”

Oh yeah. I still want to perform on a Broadway stage. I mean, I’ve performed on a Broadway stage before. I was in a Gypsy of the Year, which is a Broadway Equity Fights AIDS kind-of talent show thing. So I did that and that was amazing. But I want to perform in a Broadway show on a Broadway stage. I would love to lead a movie. I was supporting, last time, in a movie called Stalkerish Prey, which was amazing. I had such a great time, but I would love to lead or be supporting in a bigger project. I’m doing a lot of writing nowadays and one of my goals is to get one of my writing projects off the ground and made.

Moving on, talk to me about There’s… Johnny. What can you tell audiences about the series?

There’s…. Johnny is this beautifully written, period piece about a kid who gets a job at The Tonight Show back in the 70s during the Johnny Carson era. So the entire show takes place sort of backstage and behind the scenes of the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. Johnny Carson was the first big deal, the first legend of the late night hosts. He’s sort of where the Jimmy Fallons and the Jimmy Kimmels sort of come from. It’s been really cool to sort of experience that and live in that.

One really cool thing about this show is that we use archival footage from his show in our show. So you’ll be watching a clip from his show and something goes wrong, or seems to go wrong in that clip, and you’ll cut to backstage which is us freaking out, going “what do we do? How do we fix this?” It’s pretty cool. Tony Danza is in it; he’s making his comeback. Paul Reiser is involved in it and he’s making his comeback as our writer, executive producer.

It’s about this kid, Andy Klavin, who gets a job at The Tonight Show and he’s sort of gifted this. It’s kind of an accident. He thinks he gets a job there and he never really had a job there. But because they feel bad for him, they give him a job. He’s played by my buddy, Ian Nelson, and he’s trying to just fit in and thankfully he gets taken under the wing of Joy, played by Jane Levy. She guides him and tries to make him not be the failure of the whole company. Eventually, he meets my character Rasheed Miller, who is a really powerful, loud, Black Power stand-up comedian who has these huge Hollywood dreams and one of those dreams is to be on The Tonight Show. And luckily for him, he runs into Andy and he befriends him. He becomes his friend, but also sort of his guide in a way because Andy is so innocent and naive.

It sounds incredible and I’m not just saying that. I saw the trailer and I’m excited for it to drop. But I’m curious: how did you get involved with the project? What was the audition process like?

Oh man, that’s a story. So I did a self-tape audition for this show, which means that you have to do the audition yourself at home or wherever. I had my buddy, Patrick McCarthy, do basically every single audition and callback with me for this project. He was my good luck charm [laughs]. I ended up doing one audition tape and four callback tapes. I sent those in December 2016 and come January the role was between me and one other actor. It was a Wednesday and casting called me and told me they wanted me to fly to Los Angeles and be there by Friday. They wanted me to meet Paul Reiser, meet David Steven Simon and do everything as if I had gotten the part, because apparently the other actor had already done the table readings, and was already sort of in the mix, but there was another project that he was looking to work on instead of this show. So it was Thursday morning and I hopped on a plane last minute, got there that night and I just sort of sat all weekend waiting to hear. On Monday I got the call saying I had the part and they said, “you start shooting tomorrow.” So I had to find a place and figure out my situation. I hadn’t been to LA since I was 15, so I was sort of figuring everything out as I went along and it was a crazy ride.

Wow. That is one heck of a story. But going back to your character, Rasheed, would you say that he is more similar or different to the person that Camrus is? Why?

I think we’re similar in the fact that we have a big heart, each of us, but Rasheed is a lot more guarded with his. He has a big heart, but he doesn’t want everyone to know that. And he has a lot more secrets that he tends to keep to himself, or feels the need to keep to himself rather. I’m more of an open book and I don’t feel as if I have much to hide. When I do have something to hide, I still usually end up telling someone about it. I do, also, come from somewhat of a comedy background, but Rasheed’s comedy tends to be a little more dark and political and angry and my comedy is a bit more soft [laughs].

We’re similar in that regard and Rasheed sort of feels like my brother. I feel like there’s so much of him in me and me in him. I feel like he would be a version of me if raised in a completely different environment. And I don’t want to give too much away, and just see when you watch, but when you see his anger come out, that’s the different between us.

I’m sure it’s always interesting to be involved in something that’s based off of real life. How did you go about researching your role, especially cause your character is fictional within a world that’s based on real life? How much did you know about Johnny Carson andThe Tonight Show before you signed on to this project?

I didn’t know too much about Johnny Carson, to be honest. I was told that he was a legend, I was told that he was the host of The Tonight Show back in the day. So I sort of just put him in the head of the hosts that I know and love, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon. I watched a couple of clips of his on YouTube. But since I got the role the day before, I didn’t get to research him the way that I wanted to. I did as the show went on and after, I watched a lot more clips.

There was a second part to your question….oh, how I prepared for the role. For Rasheed, I actually put on a couple of stand-up routines, in my room, for no audience, to get into the mind of a Rasheed. All of my stand-up comedian friends said to practice jokes on people all of the time; that’s just how their minds work. Think of something funny and then throw it into casual conversation. So I did a lot of that too. I talked to my friends in LA, or over Skype if they were in New York, and I would just try jokes on them because that’s what Rasheed would do. A lot of the time they would be like, “What are you doing?” because I would just be throwing joke after joke. But I think that stand-up routines in my room helped me the most because Rasheed, he performs. What he does is on stage and that’s where he feels he belongs is on stage, behind a mic, in front of an audience.

You mentioned Tony Danza earlier and obviously he’s an icon. What was it like to work with him?

He’s my guy. I love that dude. I really hope for a season two, because I look forward to more scenes with him. I only got to work on set with him a couple of times. Thankfully we became friends and hung out after the show. He’s everything you think he is. He’s this beautiful man where no matter how you’re feeling, he makes you happy. Even if you’re as happy as you think you can be, Tony makes you happier. It’s funny, because you look at him one second and he’s making someone laugh. You turn around for two seconds and then look back and he’s tap dancing and making five people laugh. Then he picks up a trumpet and will start playing it; he’s doing something all the time. He’s like a glowing light.

It’s cool to have him on set because we all know who he is, and we all respect him, and it’s cool to love someone you respect. Tony once gave me two tickets to this show he was doing. It was like a live, singing performance show with this group of kids for a foundation. After the show I walked up to the stage and he was like, “What did you think? Did you like it?” And I was like, “What did I think? You’re Tony Danza, dude. It doesn’t matter what I think?” [laughs]

We’ve really seen streaming services take off in the last two years or so. What’s it like to be a part of this new wave of content, especially for Hulu who has just really dived into original content?

I owe a lot of my career to streaming services because my first two television shows were Netflix, and now my biggest role yet is in a Hulu show. So I owe them a lot and I have a lot of respect for them because they have so many more opportunities for actors like me, who are coming up. Also, as far as my writing projects, there are so many avenues to get content created, and things made, and to get people to watch things. And I kind of like the dropping the whole season in one day thing because people’s attention spans are very much shortened, because we have so much media and so much to look at. For some shows, I’ll watch the first couple of episodes of it and there are just so many things to do that I won’t make my way back to it. It’s good to have it all in one place because I can watch it all in one go. I feel like if I watch seven episodes, thirty-minutes each, I can do that in one day. It won’t take much time from me and I’ll enjoy that rather than waiting once a week to watch something like we used to. And we still do for some shows, but I have to make time to do that. I have to make a commitment to watch that show.

I just have a few fun questions to wrap up with. Now that you’re going to be starring in a new Hulu show, what’s been the best show that you binged recently? It can be on Hulu or a different streaming site.

I sort-of, kind of, binged Black Mirror. That show is kind of hard to binge because it’s a lot. It’s pretty dark. I would watch between 3-5 episodes a day, because that’s pretty much all you can take since they are an hour long each. But that show is great. I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not.

No, I have not. I’ve never even heard of it. Which site is it on? 

Oh man, so Black Mirror was I think a BBC show for it’s first two seasons and then Netflix picked it up. So now there is three seasons on there and a fourth season coming out soon. I recommend seeing 3×01 first because it gives you the tone of the show, but it’s not nearly as dark, or it won’t get your gut turning like some of the other episodes. It’s like the current day Twilight Zone, but in color and under the umbrella of technology. So it’s pretty sweet, but you shouldn’t start with the first episode because it’s pretty dark [laughs].

We’re called Talk Nerdy With Us so what’s something that you nerd out about?

I love video games. I’m pretty sure one reason I became an actor is because of the video games I played as a kid. I used to imagine myself as the main character.  Being able to role play like that was so cool, so it was only natural that I became an actor because I was basically acting with my hands and a remote.

I’m not so much a nerd about comic books, like I want to be, but I read about 50 of them, because I wanted to write my own, which I did, and I’m working on getting that made now. Ever since I read those 50, it’s just like comic books are so cool. I read one about teenagers that went to an assassin high school, like that’s so cool. So I like that kind of stuff. I like very colorful, nerdy things, like a more technology, virtual reality, video games, comic book kind of nerdy.

If you weren’t THAT into comic books before you read a bunch of them, what inspired you to write your own?

I have this idea for a live action video game feature film. A friend of mine read the script, or the treatment for the project. He said that because of the world of DC and Marvel right now, he said you should probably make it into a comic book first, because that will make it much easier since it’s basically an elongated storyboard. And I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s genius. I can do that.” So I gave it a shot, and I read all these comics, and I got a co-writer. I got an artist to make some mock-up art for me last year or so, and I’ve got to write the comic script for it. Since I’m so new,  I don’t know what a comic script looks like because I’ve only seen two. I’m working on re-writing, but essentially I’m writing it for the purpose of turning it into an on-camera project.

There’s… Johnny Season 1 drops on Hulu on November 16th. And you can follow Camrus on Twitterand Instagram.

Exclusive Interview with Rafael V. DeLeon

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

6.jpg

Rafael V. DeLeon took the road less traveled into an acting career. He played a year of Division II basketball at Averett University in Danville, VA, which just happens to be my hometown, before taking his talents to the highest competitive level at Temple University for his last three years of eligibility. After he graduated, he still had yet to try his hand at acting. Instead, he landed a job working for the mayor of Washington, D.C. in the Executive Office of Boards & Commissions. He decided after working 40 or more hours a week in politics that he was ready to follow his passion for film, so he moved to New York to be an actor in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. Currently, DeLeon is set to star in Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It, a revival of the 1986 film that launched Spike Lee’s career, which comes out on Thanksgiving Day. I got the opportunity to talk to him about his journey from college basketball player to actor, his role in the new series, things he doesn’t understand about dating in 2017 and so much more. Read on to see his answers.

There’s a lot of things in your bio that stand out. You were a college basketball player, first at Averett University, which is a program that is close to my heart, and then at Temple University, right? 

Right. It’s so funny. There are a select number of people that have even heard of Danville, Virginia so that’s even cooler that you know it and are familiar with the program. I played for a year down in Danville, but I decided that I wanted to play at the highest level of competition in the country and I ended up transferring to Temple University in Philadelphia and finished up my collegiate career, obviously, as a student-athlete there. It was a character building experience but it also showed me that I was able to accomplish anything that I set my mind to at an early age, at 19.

So then was your dream as a kid to be a professional basketball player in the NBA? Or did this collegiate career just kind of happen?

No, it was definitely playing basketball professionally and following that dream. And that had kind of been the vision up until I graduated college.

After you graduated from Temple, you also worked for the mayor of DC in the Executive Office of Boards & Commissions, right?

Yeah, after I graduated from college I ended up going back home to the Maryland-DC area. A friend of mine was working, at the time, for the Mayor of DC. I asked him if there were any job openings and he ended up getting me an interview. I saw two administration changes and I learned a lot when I was in politics.

Did you work for Mayor Bowser or Mayor Gray?

So I actually worked for Mayor Fenty and then also Mayor Gray. I ended up leaving DC in 2011. When Mayor Gray ran against [current mayor] Muriel Bowser [in 2014], Mayor Gray ended up losing the election so I was kind of happy that I relocated to New York when I did.

So you just said you left DC and moved to New York. But I have to ask: how did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?

Well, I think that for me, I think there were three primary drivers in my passion for film. The first one was my grandfather. He and I and my cousin, after school when he would pick us up on Wednesdays and Fridays, we would go to Blockbuster and he would let us select a movie of our liking, that was obviously age appropriate, and the three of us would sit around and watch those movies. My grandfather is a huge cinephile, in a way that he has had a love of film for a very long time. As we would watch these films, he would have us guessing what would happen. At the time, I didn’t quite realize it but we were more or less analyzing characters and discovering and uncovering character development, character arcs, that sort of thing. So throughout elementary school and middle school, that foundation was laid.

My mother also did a lot of local theater, so there were a lot of mornings where I was running her lines with her, or if she had an audition then I was the other person. That was always something that she and I always did together. You know how when you have specific things that are specific to one parent, like when you have things that really only the two of you know about, the two of you only experience together? That’s kind of what that was for us. Running lines with her was something I enjoyed doing and she enjoyed as well.

And I would say the third thing is I grew up in the mid-nineties and there were a lot of people of color on TV at the time. Specifically, I think I was heavily influenced by All That, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Family Matters, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, evenMartin when I was able to sneak it in and watch. But those shows for me, specifically Fresh Prince, were something that really got me. I didn’t know at the time that’s what it was. But I just recall, at the time, really enjoying what was being discussed, being entertained and laughing.

So when you moved from DC to New York, was your wanting to try your hand at acting the reason you moved or were you just looking for a change and then still somehow ended up in acting?

It was specifically for acting. After having lived in DC and also Philadelphia, I’ve always wanted to live in New York and I wanted to specifically pursue film. It was something I had put off in high school and college. Having had an experience working 40 hours a week or more in government, I was excited to do something that was a serious passion of mine. Youthful naivete, to some extent, but I’m happy I did it. 

What are some of your biggest goals in acting right now? Do you have a personal acting “bucket list?”

I do, I do. I think that all actors have a list of roles and films that they would want to be a part of. I think that at this point in my career, I’m open to all types of films and genres. I think that there is something to be said for the story that is being told and what they’re discussing and talking about. I have always grown up loving Indiana Jones so there is a level of action and comedy that I really enjoyed about that. But the answer is I’m open to what comes up and what that quality of work is on that project. But I definitely have a bucket list.

Moving on to She’s Gotta Have It, how you did you get involved with the project? What was the audition process like?

One of my highlights, I would say, of my career thus far was that audition process. When I got the audition, I was already aware that Spike [Lee] was involved with it but obviously the details of how they were shooting it hadn’t come out yet, and they were still casting for the roles. I went into the room and I ended up meeting with one of the casting assistants and we ended putting it up on tape. A few days later, I got a call from my agent saying that they wanted to offer me the role.

The reason why it was such a big deal for me is that Kim Coleman, the head casting director, and Spike, neither of them were in the room at the time. And for me to be offered the role after them having watched the tape was really important because it validated, for me, that I was able to transmit emotion and communicate exactly how I was feeling on camera because obviously that’s a different feeling with stage acting, theatre acting, being in person versus watching it on film. So for me, having them see the tape and select me, I was extremely grateful for it.

Had you seen the original movie before you got the role? If so, were you a fan?

Prior to the audition I had done my general research on the film. When I audition for roles, I try not watch or look at roles that have been done already. As an artist, there is something to be said about authentically bringing in your vision of the role or of the character. So I had not watched the film prior to the audition, but after booking the role obviously I watched it. I had been extremely familiar with a lot of Spike’s work and I had seen most of his films prior to the audition. I did know about who he was and about the iconic status that he has in the film space. One of my first Spike films that I remember was He Got Game with Ray Allen.

Of course. Classic.

That [movie] was something that for me was the first time I was like, “who produced this? Who directed this? Who’s idea was this?”

Speaking of Spike Lee, what is it like working with him? I mean like you said, he’s such a legendary and iconic director.

Spike is really cool. One thing that I’ll say is that, for me, what really struck me is his level of engagement and his authenticity. For me, I didn’t know what to expect. So it was really refreshing to have Spike on set and be very precise and specific with what he was looking for, that made it really easy for me, as an actor, to deliver what he was looking for.

Talk a little bit about your character, Manny Garciela. What is he like? How does it fit into the story?

In the original film, Spike focused on Nola Darling and the three gentleman that were all pursuing Nola and that was kind of the scope of the film. With the show, they’ve built that world out a bit more and my character, Manny Garciela, plays Mars Blackmon’s best friend. I would describe Manny, obviously as Mars’ best friend and road dog, but I would also describe him also as someone who has a lot of different layers in the Hispanic community. What I mean by that is Spike, I thought, did a really amazing job of showing the dichotomy, culturally, that exists in the Hispanic community. An example I would give of that is that with Mars being black and Puerto Rican, he has more of a hip-hop kind of influence where as Manny is a little bit more on the punk rock side. He leans more towards leather than he does fitted caps and sneakers. I felt that the fact that Spike even addresses that on a very subtext level, to me that was a really amazing thing. Because for me, as someone who is biracial, it’s not something that I’ve ever seen on film.

I have a few more fun questions to start wrapping up our time. Since the show focuses on Nola and her trying to navigate dating life in 2017 with three very different relationships, what is something you don’t understand about dating in 2017?

Ooh [laughs]. Great question. I think that people will judge who you are based off your digital and/or social media presence. And sometimes it doesn’t take in to account all of the intricacies of your humanity. I find myself sometimes meeting people who do follow me on social media and they have a preconceived notion about me based on the content that’s posted. I have a lot of things that would be considered nerdy, if you will, that I don’t always share in a certain space due to what I’m looking to have as my aesthetic for my social media. So I do sometimes limit the intricacies of my interests to some extent. I think that people have preconceived notions about some of that stuff. It’s like, “no. There’s a lot more there.”

I know you’re a big basketball and football fan. Being from DC, are you a Wizards and Redskins fan? 

I am, yes. And Nationals. And Capitals.

What are your thoughts on their seasons so far?

With the Wizards, their season just started. I’m still hopeful [with them] in the Eastern Conference. It’s going to be a tough, uphill battle for them. They have Boston and Cleveland, which appear to be the toughest contenders in the east. So it’s gonna be a little bit of a challenge, along with Milwaukee; they’re pretty good this year. Football wise, Washington just came off of a huge win in Seattle. As a Washington fan, I will say that we have been tormented and have nightmares of playing against Seattle, whether it was in the playoffs or whether it was in the regular season, we haven’t had much luck. So to go into Seattle this past weekend and get a win, I thought was really a step in the right direction.

Now that you’re going to be starring in a new Netflix show, what’s been the best show that you binged recently? It can be on Netflix or a different streaming site.

Right now, I really enjoyed Ozark. Jason Bateman was phenomenal in that role and I think that it was really well done and smartly written and the way they shoot it is unbelievable. So I would say Ozark is one and Mindhunter. I’ve been checking that out recently. The first episode, I was a little bit on the fence about. But I will say that, I’m on episode 9 now, that episodes 2-9 have been, they’ve lived up to the hype.

You kind of alluded to being a big nerd but since we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us, what’s something that you nerd out about?

I have a couple so I’ll limit it to three. I like nerding out about anything that is space related. So recently, NASA discovered an unidentified object that entered our solar system but it was not following the trajectory of an asteroid so they aren’t exactly sure what it was, but they are aware that it did enter. So that’s something that I really, really enjoy following and reading about.

I enjoy reading about tech innovations, specifically what Elon Musk is doing with Hyperloop and Space X and autonomous driving and stuff, I find extremely interesting. Also renewable energy, specifically because of space travel, is fascinating to me.

I also enjoy chess, I nerd out about it a lot. I follow a lot of the chess masters. I don’t watch all of their matches because they take time before they make moves, but I’m definitely reading recaps, following along with that [laughs].

Well you just taught me something because I didn’t realize that recaps of chess matches were a thing and now I kind of want to go read one.

Yeah, totally. They have recaps of these matches with these chess masters and you’re able to look through each of their moves and so I play chess on my phone against my father, my uncle, my cousins, strangers and I like to study a lot of chess opens and I’m working on my middle game and my end game right now. But they allow for you to look at the recap and see, in a very succinct way, what their moves were and so you’re able to kind of analyze what their openings were, why they opened a certain way, how they modified things as things changed, etc. So for me that’s something I always check up on and try to learn from.

You can check Rafael out in She’s Gotta Have It when the first season is released November 23 on Netflix. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Photo Credit: Timothy Rosado

Exclusive Interview with Jane the Virgin’s Keller Wortham

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

IMG_0218.jpg

Keller Wortham is like no other actor I’m familiar with. Not only does he constantly put in work to become as successful an actor as possible, he also currently practices internal medicine in the Los Angeles area. He shared with me how he balances the two very different careers, how he originally got the role of Esteban Santiago on Jane the Virgin, which is the role he is most recognized for, and what he nerds out about.

How did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was something you wanted to do?

This is so funny but I remember being a kid and seeing The Muppets Movie where they all decide they want to go to Hollywood. I love musicals and stuff liked that, I mean I loved movies but it was even better if it was a musical and [laughs] I swear to God I credit Kermit the Frog for having this dream of leaving the swamp and going to Hollywood. I must have been five years old and I think I even had a Muppets-themed birthday and we sang the Muppets songs and I just loved putting on plays and shows and singing for the family. They would entertain me and I think that was their biggest mistake [laughs], encouraging this behavior. So yeah, from a very early age I knew I wanted to perform.

When I was doing some research on you, I saw that you also currently practice as an doctor. 

Yeah, I do.

Where did you study and what kind of medicine do you practice?

Yeah. So I went to medical school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., I did my residency in internal medicine in Pittsburgh, and then moved to LA to pursue an acting career, or as my parents said, to enjoy the circus. And it was really that desire to get back to a creative and performing life that I was missing so much. At least in medical school and residency, you can’t have that as you don’t have time for anything else. It was a shock to my balance of everything, saying, “oh man. I lost this really significant part of me and I don’t feel complete. We’re going to have to re-think this.”

My father is a doctor so I grew up loving the arts and also having a great example of a guy who devoted his life to science and I also excelled in science so it seemed like, well acting is a hobby and what are we going to do for a career? So that’s kind of how it went until I was really forced to make a choice of all one or the other till I thought, “okay. Let’s move to LA and see if there is a way, a sure way to hybridize. And it’s worked out, it’s worked out quite well actually.

That’s so interesting. I’m curious: how has it been trying to balance your career as a physician and as an actor? I’d imagine that it has to be challenging as I wouldn’t expect there to be a whole lot of overlap. But maybe I’m wrong?

Well the core overlap, if you allow me to get a little bit esoteric, is that they are both really rooted in humanity and what it is to be intimate and what it is to want to understand more about the human condition, albeit one maybe from a more physical aspect and one from a more emotional aspect. There’s a ton of emotion and psychology in medicine and you get in very intimate circumstances with complete strangers. And really, you’re doing that with acting as well. But I think it’s that exploration in both that links them together for me.

As far as more logistically, you’re right. There’s not a lot of overlap. I actually don’t think I’ve ever played a doctor in a movie or a film. As much as I would have loved to be on Grey’s Anatomy, it just hasn’t worked out yet. I think the biggest hurdle I found starting out was that people will inherently take you less seriously about both. People are not comfortable when you don’t fit inside a box. You can obviously understand a patient or a colleague being like, “Oh. You’re an actor?” And just have them completely discount you’re work as a physician. But you equally find discrimination, if you will, from a casting director or a director or a manager who is like, “Oh. Well, you’re not 100% devoted to this so I don’t know if we want to pursue working with you.” So luckily, there were enough people who believed that I was not only capable but could excel at both.

What are some of your biggest goals in acting right now? Do you have a personal acting “bucket list?” I mean, you just mentioned that you’ve never played a doctor before, would that be on there?

Yes, I would love to play a doctor just because I have the wealth of knowledge. I also would love to, I tend to get cast as these decent and noble human beings or as arrogant human beings, but not as very dark human beings. So I would love to…I got offered a job with Telemundo, which conflicted with Jane the Virgin, that was a corrupt, pedophile politician that was based on a true character. And I didn’t get to explore that too much because I knew the dates weren’t going to work out, but I thought that it would have been the darkest character that I’ve gotten to play. So I’m sad at that missed opportunity because getting to get inside the head of someone like that, that’s for sure on my list of exploring. We all have those capabilities within us and the funny thing, coming at it from a very scientific point of view, the amount of impulses that the human brain has on a second per second basis that are so grotesque, they’re there. We just have a very developed cerebral cortex that shuts them down and says, “Nope. You’re not allowed to make-out with that person that you don’t even know. Nope, you’re not allowed to hit that person that you’re really mad at,” and there’s tons of things that are really grotesque that we keep in check. So to be able to explore those uninhibitedly is something I still long to do.

In terms of Jane the Virgin, which is the role you’re probably most recognized for, let’s go back just a little bit. How did you first hear about the role of Esteban? What was the audition process like?

It’s really funny because my manager, my agent at the time, called me and said that there was a role for a telenovela star on this new show and they’re going to see and she said, “You are a telenovela star,” which is true because I had done a couple of them in Colombia at that point that were really successful. So I had gotten to live that life for a hot second. But I’m American, English is my first language and Spanish was learned. But they wanted a Latino and she had kind of left that detail out. So we kind of had to fudge it a little bit. I went into the audition with Esteban’s accent and I talked with it the whole time as if it were my own accent [laughs]. But it ended up paying off and luckily I got the role.

What can you tell us about what Esteban is up to in the next few episodes? We saw last week that he and Darci are an item and he was a big help with the birth of the baby.

Esteban really, his MO at this point is to be a dad, not only a lover to this woman, who I believe he is sincerely in love with even though it happened over the course of like five days [laughs]. But I think there is this real desire to be a father that he hasn’t gotten to fulfill yet. So it’s going to be a continuous battle to insert himself into the life of this child, much to the chagrin of Rogelio.

Keller in the giant sperm costume that his character on the Jane the Virgin had to wear

Also, going back really quick: did you ever think you were going to have to play a giant sperm? Did you find out ahead of time that this was going to be a thing?

It was so much fun. What happens is usually we get the scripts first and you read it and you’re like, “Oh my God. Are you serious? This is hilarious. Esteban is having sex with the woman and therefore there is going to be a sperm version of him and Rogelio is blocking it out.” And you’re just like, when would you ever get to film something like this ever? And then you have to go to a wardrobe fitting and I had to go to several because it takes a little bit of time to sew up a mermaid-style sperm costume. So going to wardrobe and getting zipped up into this thing, where I can’t really move when I’m in it. They would put me on the ground of the dressing room because we had to figure out how it was all going to fit and had me wiggle. We could adjust the head a bit, and velcro it up in the back, and adjust the tail some more. Just imagine repetitive wiggling on the floor of a dressing room; it was really funny.

I know you’ve got another new series on Telemundo that’s getting ready to start and I would butcher the name if I tried to say it [Sangre de Mi Tierra]. Can you talk a little bit about the series and what your role is?

The series is called “Sangre de Mi Tierra” which means “Blood of My Land.” It’s basically a modern Romeo and Juliet story that takes place in Napa about two immigrant families that have vineyards. It’s very realistically written and I can’t say too much, but it’s about events that could happen to any of us and make the two families battle with each other. My character is basically the ex-boyfriend of one of the lead characters who comes in and disrupts the family dynamic. I would say it’s beautifully written in the sense that it shows the complexity of family life. We’ve all been in scenarios where things aren’t going so well in the family and we fall out of love, etc. I commend Telemundo for taking a risk and trying to write much less salacious material than usual. It’s very, very real and very nuanced and I hope it does well because there’s a lot of tragedy that is quite believable in the story.

Yeah. I think it’s interesting what you said about Telemundo moving away from more salacious material because I think that’s the reputation they’ve always gotten. So I’ll be curious to see how their programming changes moving forward.

The Latin public is, it might sound bad to use the word “maturing,” but I do mean that they’re evolving. There’s so much access to good television now that the public is demanding more interesting content as well now, that is better acted and better produced. So the partnership with Telemundo and NBC has really raised the game and it’s really fun to be a part of that family. I’ve already gotten an offer to be a part of a Christmas special that we shoot next week which is fun because I play an American character that doesn’t really speak Spanish at all and a lot of  the comedy comes from him and the female interest not understanding each other. So it’s fun because my Spanish is really good and my character’s Spanish will not be as good.

Speaking of good television content, I know you probably don’t have a lot of free time, but what shows are you watching when you do have some downtime? Whats on your DVR?

Oh God [laughs]. First of all, I’m notoriously bad at watching every week but I love to binge-watch. I loved Bloodline. It’s really dark. Again, I love that believable family drama where it’s like, “Oh my God. That could happen.” I love shows where good characters, good people sink into bad situations. That, thematically, is great for me because I see myself as a good person so I love imaging scenarios where I would behave that way as well. So I love Bloodline. I love Stranger Things, as well. I have a real soft spot for Goonies-style kid-genre movies. I grew up with Goonies and so it’s like living a special moment. I have not started the second season that just dropped, but that is on the top of my list.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us so what do you nerd out over?

Oh well. I’m a pianist so I love classical music so I play every day for a couple of hours. I’ll have friends over and I’ll almost like commandeer them to become an audience. I’ll be like, “Hey, I’m gonna play for you,” and they’re like, “F*ck. If I have to sit through one more f*cking show.” But I love the technical skills that are necessary to play good classical music, and try to impart on other people how brilliant classical music is, and how we drifted from some really important things in today’s world, and I find that a lot of music that is written today to be musically boring.

Exclusive Interview with Snowfall’s Isaiah John

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

OQ6A7831

Isaiah John is making a name for himself playing Leon Simmons in John Singleton’s Snowfall, which is currently airing on FX. I had the chance to talk with Isaiah about his previous job as a janitor, how he got the part in Snowfall, and his recent diet change. Read what he had to say about those topics and more below.

First off, congratulations on all of your recent success and for the show getting picked up for a second season!

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

How did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?

Oh of course. Basically, my sister would perform every weekend for our parents. That was something we did every weekend and people would be like, “Hey, you guys should act,” but we were too shy to perform in front of anyone else. So when I was about thirteen, I asked my mom to help me start acting and [enroll me] in acting classes and things like that. She didn’t believe me and it took a whole year to convince her that I was serious about it and she finally broke. I got called to do a short film and it was my very first acting gig and it was called No Way Out and I hope you guys never see it. [Laughs] But it was a great experience. That really sparked the acting bug for me. It was an amazing short film and I was the lead in it. The acting was horrible but it really made me interested in acting and now I’ve fallen in love with acting and that was definitely the moment I knew I was going to do this forever. 

It’s been a long journey. Now I’m 21 and I’m just now getting my big break. But it was an amazing journey and I learned a lot and made a lot of connections and it helped mold me as an actor. 

When I was doing some research on you, I saw that you worked as a janitor for a while and I know you still had it even after you started booking your first roles. Why a janitor and why did you keep it for so long? 

I started to work as a janitor only for the simple fact that I had had other jobs before my janitor job and for scheduling purposes, they weren’t as flexible. For my janitor job, I would wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning and I would be done in four or five hours. So it was just very flexible. I had the rest of my day to do whatever I had to do when it came to acting. Even after I booked the Barbershop 3 role, I was only on set for a day and the next morning, I was back to cleaning bathrooms. So the money wasn’t there [with acting]. [The janitor job] was just enough to sustain the little responsibility that I had. So that’s why I chose to stick with the janitor job and it worked out perfectly fine. They understood that I was an actor and they were really excited when I booked Snowfall. They weren’t upset.

So wait, you had that job right up until you booked Snowfall?

Yeah, so basically what had happened was I lied to them. When I auditioned for Snowfall, a week or so later they called me and asked me to do a chemistry read in California and they flew me out. But, it was in the middle of the week so I just told my job, “Yeah, something just came up and I’m going to have to miss work for a couple of days.” I never told them exactly what it was. I didn’t even tell anyone I left for California;only my immediate family knew. Everyone else didn’t know. So I told them and I went to California on a Tuesday, the callback was on a Wednesday, and I was supposed to fly back on that Thursday; I had a return flight. But, later that Wednesday, I got the call that I had booked [the part on Snowfall] and they were like, “Yeah, so if you can call your job and quit. You don’t have to be a janitor anymore.” And still to this day, Dave Andron [co-creator] still has his little joke that he thinks is hilarious. He’s like, “Yeah, you don’t sweep floors anymore and clean toilets.” But yeah, I was a janitor up until I booked Snowfall and I had to quit over the phone while I was in California. 

Wow. So kind of moving on to talk about Snowfall, how you did you get involved with the project? What was the audition process like?

My manager found out about the project in 2015 when they did the first go-round of the pilot. They had a lot of big names in the cast and FX wanted new faces. So they re-cast it for 2016 and she, the whole time, even while they were filming the first pilot, would research and see what was happening with Snowfall. So when she found out that they were re-casting, she reached out the casting director immediately. [The casting director] gave me a look and said that I would be perfect for the role of Leon but she wasn’t casting that role right now so she told my manager to reach back out in a couple of weeks. So she did and I was asked to audition. So I did and they loved it.

But my actual chemistry read with Damson Idris, who plays Franklin Saint, it was great. I get there and it’s about three or four other guys who kind of looked different. Basically, what I noticed, was that when I got there, all the other guys that were auditioning for the same role, they had the chance to actually sit there and talk to Damson before they were in the room for their chemistry read. For me, they just told me to go straight into the room and perform with him. I didn’t have time to actually talk with him. So right when I walked in, he asked me what my name was and I said “Isaiah” and he said, “Oh cool. That’s my nephew’s name.” So that’s how connected at that moment. And ever since then, when we perform its very authentic and very real to the point where that the scene in the pilot, the bus scene where I go off the whole time, that was actually not even in the original pilot. What they did was they gave us that scenario and that was our chemistry read test. So all of that that went down to that scene was what me and Damson created in the moment of our chemistry reading and that was really cool.

How would you describe it to people who haven’t seen it or don’t know anything about it?

I would say it is one of the most real shows to get to television. It’s a real story, it’s very authentic. It’s gritty, it’s raw. I feel like you have to be open to receiving certain information and certain visuals. There’s so many different components that make the show great. So I would definitely would describe it as an all around amazing show, honestly. It has a lot of truth to it. It’s educational but it’s also entertaining. 

Talk a little bit about your character, Leon. What is he like? How does it fit in to the story?

Leon is Franklin Saint’s best friend. They grew up together in South Central L.A. My character is a hot-tempered kid from South Central [L.A.]. He was in and out of juvie for assault. He’s really hungry to reach the top with Franklin, whatever the top maybe. He’s very eager to see what that brings him and his friends. He just wants to better his situation. All he knows is the hood that he is from and his encounters with the police and the justice system so he wants different. But he also doesn’t really care about any circumstances so he’s willing to do whatever dirty work needs to be done to get where he feels he needs to be. I’m really curious to see where they take his life story when it comes to season two and seasons to come.

Going off of that, you described him as hot-tempered and someone who is hungry to get to the top; are those characteristics that you see in yourself, or do you find that Leon is a very different person than Isaiah is?

I would say I’m totally different from Leon, but if you asked my immediate family they would tell you otherwise.

Really?

Yeah. I feel like I’m a really nonchalant, chill person, and that is not Leon. He really gets offended very easily and I don’t. I would say I’m different from Leon when it comes to that perspective.

Earlier you were talking about the authentic vibes and that is something, every time I watch Snowfall, you get that very authentic vibe and it seems to be pretty accurate in regards to the time period that the story takes place in. I’m curious, as an actor, how much research did you do about the 1980s to figure out how your character would’ve lived and maneuvered in that decade? 

I was luckily obviously able to ask my mom stories about that time and era. We had John Singleton, of course, on set every day and we had also had WC (pronounced DubC) on set every day with us as well. And you know WC, he’s a legend, he’s a west coast legend. He was a huge help in molding my character. He really made sure I had the dialect, the stance, the lingo, all of that. He really put me up on game when it came to how things were in the ’80s in South Central L.A. So it was just asking a lot of questions and observing the neighborhood, because the neighborhoods changed a lot but the culture is still there. So just observing the people who grew up there and being able to ask John and Dub questions really helped me as an actor put me in that mindset and time era. Having them there was a huge, huge part of my development of Leon. 

Going off of that, what was it like working with John [Singleton], because he’s such a legendary director?

Oh man, John is amazing. He’s a genius. I feel like Snowfall is definitely an important piece that’s out and I feel like he’s just brilliant. His ideas are insane. We’ll be on set and he’s like, “Try this,” and it comes out to be amazing. So just having him there and having his input there was a blessing in itself, being able to work with him because I grew up watching his movies. So being able to call him a friend is very huge to me, especially from where I come from in this industry. I didn’t have much help in the beginning. So to come from that to now being able to call John when I need to, that’s an amazing feeling as an actor to have a legend in your corner who wants to see you succeed in the industry. I would definitely say he’s a friend of mine now. 

What’s your favorite film of his?

Ugh, there’s so many. Of course Boyz N The Hood, I’ve watched that like a 100,000 times. Poetic Justice is another great one. Every movie he puts out I feel like is a classic. I really can’t choose one, but I can just choose the ones that I’ve watched the most. So I would say Boyz N The Hood for sure. 

What can you tease about what’s coming up in the last few episodes of season one?

Oooh. There’s a lot of great things that are going to happen, well not great, but a lot of surprises are going to happen, so I don’t really think I can say anything. I don’t think I can say anything without spoiling because your brain is going to start thinking and I don’t want you to be thinking. I want you to be surprised in the moment when you watch the show.

So just gotta keep watching, huh?

Yeah, you just gotta keep watching. A lot of great scenes are about to happen. Just be prepared, man. A lot of things are about to get really real. 

I have just a few quick, more “fun” questions left. I know you probably don’t have a lot of free time but what shows are you watching? Whats on your DVR?

Of course I watched Dear White People, that’s amazing TV. Queen Sugar is also another one. There’s a lot of great shows out, honestly. Of course Game of Thrones; I feel like everyone is addicted to that show. Oh and Blackish, Blackish is another great one for sure. Those are my top picks right now. 

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what makes us excited and passionate. What do you nerd out over?

Wow. What do I nerd out over? [Pauses] I guess there is a lot of things I nerd out over honestly. I’m a very adventurous person, so sightseeing and exploring new places I nerd out over that. Definitely music. I love finding new artists, different artists, so I nerd out over things like that. Working out. I am a fanatic when it comes to being in the gym so finding new workouts, I would definitely nerd out about that. I’m a newfound vegan, so I’m nerding out over all the new food I’m trying because there are a lot of new vegetables that I’ve never heard of before, a lot of different combinations of food. And it’s kind of hard. I love chicken but I am doing great so far.

What made you, if you don’t mind me asking, turn to being a vegan?

Well, I watched What the Health on Netflix and it changed my life. Like the facts that are behind the foods that we eat on a daily basis is insane. I suggest people watch the documentary and make that decision on their own. Some people may watch and still not want to change, which is fine. For me, I feel like it was the best decision to make and I’ve been a vegan for about over two weeks now and I feel great. 

Yeah. I’ve heard a little bit about this documentary but I feel like now people are starting to talk about it more and more so I feel like I have to put it on my list to go watch.

Oh yeah. But before you do it, I say if you like steak, go enjoy a steak. If you like chicken, eat all the chicken you can because after you watch it, you’re not going to want to eat it. So enjoy your last meal and then go watch it. 

Lastly, what does the rest of 2017 hold for you? 

I have a movie [coming out]. It’s funny because I have a sister, Racquel John, she’s also an actress. We’re four years apart but we had the chance to play twins in an upcoming movie coming out in September called Downsized and it’s going to be on TV One. It was a very fun project to film. It was the first time my sister and I worked together so it’s going to be cool on screen. I have some other things that are in the works right now so you guys will definitely be seeing what is coming up next soon.

You can follow Isaiah on Twitter and on InstagramSnowfall airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST on FX.

Exclusive Interview with Last Chance U’s Greg Whiteley

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

LastChanceU_S2_Unit_0962.jpg

Greg Whiteley is the director behind one of my favorite projects of the year, Last Chance U (you can read my review of season two here). Known for his work on documentary projects such as New York Doll and Mitt, Greg talked with me about how filming season two of Last Chance U was different than season one, whether the celebrity impact affected their shooting at all, the comparison to Friday Night Lights, and so much more. Keep reading to see his answers.

Congratulations on season two! I know I’m not the only one who has been waiting a long time for this to come out. How do you feel now that it’s finally out? 

Well, I think there is a whole team of us who feel like we just gave birth for the second time. It’s a good feeling. It feels great.

Did you ever think we would be here talking about season two, especially because I read somwhere that that wasn’t in your original plans?

We didn’t necessarily plan that it wouldn’t go on past the first season. I think after we were shooting there for two or three weeks, all of us were pretty excited about what we were seeing and what we were getting. I guess I can’t speak for the rest of the crew but I always envisioned this going multiple seasons. I didn’t necessarily know we would go back to EMCC. But I think we saw this as something that could go multiple seasons.

This is a docuseries about a football team but it’s so much more than that. If you had to describe what it is about without using the word ‘football’ or any sports-related terms, how would you describe it?

I’m glad you ask it that way because I don’t really see this as a football series. I think this is a, maybe by virtue of the fact that it’s set in the South… [pauses] that’s a good question. It’s a human drama that I think involves a lot of Faulkian-like elements. There’s just an eccentricity to these characters that we met in Scooba, Mississippi, and we, I think, take great pride in letting their voice dictate the narrative of our show and there is, if the show has been successful, it’s because they’re interesting and we, as filmmakers, did our best to get out of our own way and let them tell the story.

I’m curious about how the whole thing started originally. When did you first hear about EMCC and this program? Did you have the idea to do a sports documentary and found this specific program to be the subject, or did the documentary idea come after you heard about the program?

Lucas Smith, who is an executive at MGM Entertainment and an executive producer on this show, we had a meeting together and the result of that meeting was that we though junior college football might be an interesting, it might provide the kind of climate and culture that would make for an interesting documentary series. But we didn’t know where to go. A few months later, an assistant to my manager found an article in GQ, written by Drew Jubera, and the moment I read that I thought, “This is where we need to be. This is the place.” So the idea came first.

The series is so beautifully shot. Can you talk about the process of capturing all the footage? I know it’s got to be extremely tough technically to shoot all of these football scenes.

Credit goes to Gabe Patay, the cinematographer who I’ve worked with previously. He’s fantastic. It seems like in most instances, you either have to pick fly-on-the-wall moments and sacrifice aesthetic, or you have a really great aesthetic and you’re kind of ruining the improvisational quality of the footage, the authenticity of the footage, or you’re either having to rehearse or stage or choreograph. Gabs has a very unique skill set along with his second, Terry Zumalt, who, their great talent was being able to capture images that had the aesthetic as though they were staged but you knew that they weren’t. So you had very beautiful, very human moments that were happening right before your very eyes, non-scripted moments, but they were shot with such poetry. I would take our images and stack them up against many accomplished feature-length films that can set the lighting and choreograph shots and do multiple takes. I think we were getting things on the first take because that’s what you have to do that I think would take a normal film many, many takes.

Was there anything different about the process in shooting season two? Was it easier because you had already had the experience of season one under your belt?

I think probably [just] because none of us had ever shot a football game before. I think we went in [to season two with] a little less anxiety because we kind of knew, “Okay, this will work,” because we didn’t know if this would work in season one. Will we have all of the coverage that we will need? So that helped. And then we just had to fight against re-creating season one. There was a lot of ambition and energy that grew out of that nervousness and insecurity of, “Well we want this to look good and we’ve never done this before, so we got to make sure we are hustling, covering all of our bases.” I think that kind of energy led to a sort of frantic, almost fog-of-war during games, and we wanted to keep that. So we brought back all the key members of the crew and augmented it with people with a little more sound experience and I think the difference was you have a show that, I hope, is a pretty good balance between we’re experienced, we know what we’re doing so it’s a little better, but we’re still keeping those fresh, scared eyes that I think led to that kind of energy that we were able to capture on film in season one.

Going off the pressure to keep what was good about season one, what was the pressure like going into season two, especially after season one was such a critically acclaimed hit and so many people loved it?

Oh, I guess you just try not to think about that too much. I always feel pressure. I’m always worried that we’re going to make something that’s going to be less than what we’re expecting. You just sort of set those anxieties aside.

Season two definitely touches on the “celebrity” impact that the first season had on the program and the people involved. How did that affect the plan, if at all, for how y’all went into season two? Did the people involved find themselves paying more attention to you guys and your presence?

That’s a really great question. I just think that we’ve been doing this for a while now, and whether you’re shooting a politician running for president or a glamorous rock star or a football team in the deep South, we just try, as best we can, to honor the authenticity of that particular moment. And in this particular moment, these people were quasi-celebrities. And we just need to honor that, we needed to acknowledge that. I don’t think it got in the way of shooting at all. I think them experiencing this small level of fame and them enjoying it was interesting. I think it made the show better. In my opinion it didn’t get in the way at all.

I definitely agree. And you touched on it a little bit earlier with the fly-on-the-wall moments, but I think one of my favorite aspects is the unfiltered, unlimited access that you guys get, especially all of the interviews. I loved seeing the guys in season two talk about and tell their stories on their terms. In terms of interviewing everyone, were there times when it was tough to get them engaged, especially considering the nature of some of the subjects you wanted them to address?

No, it was not a problem at all. I think all credit goes to President Huebner–he’s the person who had to sign off and be okay with the access we were asking for–and then Coach Buddy Stephens and his staff and mostly these players who were willing and trusted us enough to open the extensive parts of their lives. It was not hard, and it was not hard because of them. They were willing to be vulnerable and trusting in a way that I think is the whole secret to the success of what we did.

You kind of talked about it a little bit before but I really liked the fact that you show a lot of the Southern community and lifestyle and especially how it intertwines so naturally with the team. Do these aspects just naturally find their way into your footage, or did you guys make more of a conscious effort, especially in season two, to also get those shots that focus on those aspects?

Well, we spent a lot of time in season one explaining Scooba and sort of setting up the location and even treating Scooba as a character. To go back and redo that for season two, I think, would not be necessary. But, because we had gotten to know the town in season one, it was fun to go and get to know the town a little bit better. So it was a function of some of the people who we had met previously, like Ritchie the Lion, well let’s get to know him a little bit better and then in other instances you just meet other people because you just spent more time in the town and you’re broadening your periphery. I don’t know if this answered you’re question Bryna, but we just got to know them better and get to know the town better. I could keep going back to that town forever, I think it’s so interesting. Even though it’s only got a population of 300, 400 people, all of them seem have a really great story to tell; we only got to some of them.

That definitely answered my question. I, like a lot of people, noticed the obvious similarities to Friday Night Lights. First, have you seen the show? Second, was that in the back of your head throughout filming as a specific influence, especially in the second season after everyone made the comparisons?

Oh yeah. For sure. As much as I love sports, most of our crew didn’t. Most of our crew was not football fans and would not consider themselves sports fans. But, most of the crew enjoyed the show Friday Night Lights. So that was a touchstone. There were frankly other touchstones, Hoop Dreams being among them. But yeah, I’m sure Friday Night Lights subconsciously had an influence on what we were doing. I’m such a big fan of that TV show. I can’t tell you exactly, there was never anything conscious where, “Hey, we’re going to go do this shot because we saw it in Friday Night Lights, but subconsciously it’s all over it, sure. Especially the choice to focus on the human element of it. I think if you were to take a stop watch and measure how much actual football is in an episode of Friday Night Lights, it’s pretty close to how much football is in an episode of Last Chance U, which is not a lot. There’s way less than you think there is.

In five, ten, fifteen years, what impact and legacy do you hope the show has left?

I hope that it is appreciated for its unvarnished and authentic look at these particular lives at this particular time. Now, anything beyond that I just don’t even think about. I leave that to audiences. I leave that to people who will write and think and watch the show. We try and shoot it in a way that leaves space for audiences to bring their own meaning to it or away from it. I hesitate to say anything more than that. I have my own personal opinions about football and academics and major college athletics, and those feelings have really shifted by my experience of being in Scooba, but I hesitate to share them because I think I’d rather audiences take away their own meaning.

Lastly, our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what makes us excited and passionate. So what do you nerd out over?

Personally?

Yeah.

Oh. I guess I’m getting so self-conscious because I start to realize what a boring person I am. [Laughs] I nerd out on my work. I’m not sure it goes beyond that. Chocolate, maybe?

What do you have coming up? What is something you’re currently working on?

We’re exploring the possibility of season three. There have been some scripted opportunities that have come my way, personally, that we’re looking at. But nothing definitive yet.

Last Chance U season two is now available to watch on Netflix. 

Exclusive Interview with Last Chance U’s Brittany Wagner

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

LastChanceU_S2_Unit_2237.jpg

Brittany Wagner made a mark on people all over the world’s hearts last year as the star of Netflix’s docuseries Last Chance U. As the athletic academic counselor at East Mississippi Community College, Brittany worked close with the athletes to make sure that they were successful in the classroom and remained eligible to play football at the Division I level. Along the way, she helped these athletes in many other avenues of life outside of football and academics. I got the chance to talk with Brittany about a lot of topics that had been on mind ever since I watched season one last summer. We discussed what life has been like for her this past year, the emotional toll of creating bonds with players who are only around for a short amount of time, the comparison to Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, and a lot more. Keep reading to see her answers.

First off, congratulations on season two! 

Thank you!

You’re welcome. I know I’m not the only one who has been waiting a long time for this to come out. How do you feel now that it’s finally out? 

Yeah, I’m excited. I mean there’s always that nervousness and anticipation even though season one’s reactions were so great. There’s still an anxiousness about whether the fans will love it just as much as they loved season one, whether the fans will still love me or love the players and see what people take to, what their thoughts are, there’s always anxiousness. So when it came out and I guess the next day, you know, getting online and reading the reviews and getting on Twitter [to see] some of the fans’ feedback, it was definitely a relief after that day.

This is a docuseries about a football team, but it’s so much more than that. If you had to describe what it is about without using the word ‘football’ or any sports related terms, how would you describe it?

Taking the football out of it, yeah I mean there is football in it, but I really think there is some deeper meanings to the show that really has nothing to do with football, athletics, or athletes at all. To describe it without using those words, I would say it’s a human interest story. I would say it’s a story about the struggles of college students, or just people in general. I think each athlete on the show shows a different struggle. I think the adults on the show [struggle too]. You see Coach Stephens struggling with himself and trying to change, you see me kind of struggle with kind of being in a rut. I think there are people everywhere that can relate. There are young people that can relate to the players and the struggles that they go through. But I think there are adults in all walks of life that can relate to feeling like they’re in a rut. We get in a comfort zone and we get comfortable and we are in a relationship or in a town and we get comfortable but we know that maybe its holding us back. And I think that was my struggle in season two, with just being comfortable and struggling with that. Just knowing that I needed to get out of my comfort zone a little bit and make a change.

A lot of people have declared you to be the breakout star of this documentary. What has life been like this past year since season one dropped? And with that being said, what expectations did you have of yourself and your role going into season two?

This past year has been crazy. [Laughs] I get asked that question a lot and I really need to come up with a different adjective but it’s just been a whirlwind. Certainly, I didn’t see or expect any of this. I’m not actress so I wasn’t doing a show to get famous or to get a following on social media, but it just kind of happened. I am beyond grateful for every single part of it. This past year has taught me a lot about myself, about humanity, about our country, and even world wide. The fans that we have that have reached out from all over the world have been wonderful. I’ve had to think, doing interviews and getting questions, deep questions, about our educational system or our criminal justice system or the NCAA and the regulations they put on student athletes. I get these questions, and people are looking to me to be a role model or to be a leader on some of these hard issues and I’ve had to stop and think about what is my position, what do I believe? It’s been tough. It’s taught me time management, it’s taught me how to prioritize my life, to still take time out for my daughter and my personal relationship and not get all consumed in the hoopla of the show and to stay grounded.

Going into season two, I was excited, obviously. Season one and the aftermath of that was fantastic. So I was excited about season two and doing it again and giving the fans, to show more inspiration. I knew that the players we had were inspirational stories, and I knew that it was going to be good, that the material would be good. But I was also stressed out if I’m being honest. Everyone was watching season one, and we were filming season two, and that’s what people don’t really realize. While I was doing five interviews a day and flying all over the country to do speaking engagements and answering hundreds of emails a day, I was filming season two every day and trying to handle that team that we had on campus. So it was a lot more stressful just because there was a lot more going on. But it was still fun and a great experience. I still bonded with the players. Yeah, it was a little different than season one, but it was still the same at the same time.

Talking about the players, the documentary both in season one and two does a good job at showing the different sides of these players. But it can still only show so much as it’s a documentary with a limited amount of time. So what do you think people most misunderstand about the athletes you worked with?

I mean, yeah. It can’t be a 200-hour show; they film us for six months, so they have to edit it down. I don’t know that you could show anyone’s complete self in an eight-hour documentary. But I think they do a very good job at getting pretty darn close with all of us and really showing who we are and the struggles that we have. I don’t think they portrayed anyone in a wrong light. I think everyone was portrayed pretty true to who they are. I respect and trust and appreciate Greg Whiteley, the director of documentary, for that, for his ability to film us and really be honest and open about what he’s showing the world [in terms of] who we are. For me, season two was a little bit heavier. It wasn’t as lighthearted and funny maybe as season one. I think there were some players who really were funny. I think Chauncey Rivers, he’s really a funny guy, and I don’t think that came off. There were some of the players that I kind of did wish that a little bit more of their lighthearted and funny side shown because it seemed so serious. But yeah, they were shown pretty true to who they were.

Going off of that, I definitely thought season two had a much heavier, emotional tone to it. Was that something you noticed while you were filming or was it something you only saw after they put it all together and edited down the six months of footage?

I think there were definitely times throughout the year where I definitely noticed it. Because we had so many transfers, all the guys that they really showed were Division I transfers, and anytime you have a transfer like that, they’re coming in and they’re not going to be there for two years. Ronald Ollie, in season one, and DJ Law, those guys were high school players; none of them were transfer players. So we had them for two years. And when you have someone for two years, you’re not in as much of a hurry academically. So you have more time to spread out the classes and the load, and you have more time to establish the relationship and deal with some of the issues. But these transfers, what people don’t realize, you saw in episode one them checking in when they arrived in Scooba. Well that was in June. I mean they checked in in June and they were gone by December. I only have them for a semester and then a few months. And when you only have someone for that short amount of time, you’re cramming a lot of hours, a lot of academic work, off the field work, in such a short of amount of time. But it is stressful and there’s not a lot of time for goofing off and fun and games and lighthearted conversations because everyone is stressed out. So I think that was the difference in the heaviness, maybe. And the situation was heavier, because we had so many transfers and everyone has the same goal of getting out in December and then going back to Division I, there’s just a lot of pressure on everybody to get that done.

You did touch on how much time you have with these athletes, and you do create these special bonds with them. I know you put a lot of work into continuing these relationships after they leave EMCC. But what kind of an emotional toll does it take on you when they leave, knowing that you only had such a short amount of time with them?

Yeah, that part is really tough, and it’s really rough for me because I do get attached and I do form a bond and then it’s like having kids leave your home every couple of months and that’s tough. I believe it was the year before Ollie came, so it would have been two years before we filmed the first season of the documentary, I had kind of made the pact with myself. I had this player right before Ollie who I had gotten really close to, and when he left it was just really hard for me to get over that player leaving. And Ollie came in, and the class that Ollie was in, I just kind of made this pact for myself that I wasn’t going to get attached to anybody, that I just wasn’t going to do that anymore. I was just going to do my job and keep all of the players at arms length and not get attached and form those bonds anymore because it was just too heartbreaking. And then walks Ronald Ollie and five minutes later, I am putty in his hands [laughs] because of his story and how much help he needed. And then I found myself, with that group, forming some of the most intense bonds that I have ever formed. So I think that just goes to show you that the minute you think you have it figured out, the universe is going to sling something different at you. Thankfully, I broke myself and allowed myself to get close to that group. John Franklin and I have a special bond, Ollie and I have a special bond, Marcel Andry and I have a special bond. That group, I’ll probably have more relationships with that group than any group I’ve ever had.

Do you think the documentary plays a role in why you have such a special bond with that group and why you might have broken your pact?

I don’t know, maybe. I’ve never really thought about it or given the documentary credit for that. I think I would have definitely formed that relationship with Ollie anyway. We just would have. I don’t know. Maybe I was a little bit more vulnerable and open because I agreed to do the documentary and I wanted it to be honest and ope, so maybe I was a little bit more vulnerable than I was trying to allow myself to be. But I’m grateful that I was and, for whatever reason that I did it, I’m grateful that I allowed myself to get attached again and be vulnerable because it definitely changed all of our lives.

A lot of people compare Last Chance U to Friday Night Lights. First off, have you seen the show? Second, what do you think about your comparison to Tami Taylor?

You know, this is going to make a lot of people mad probably, but I have not seen Friday Night Lights at all. I was aware of the show but I hadn’t watched any of it. And then after season one, when people compared me to Tami Taylor and I was being compared so much to that, I did turn it on and started with season one. I think I got through about half of season two and then I just kind of fizzled out of it. So I haven’t finished it. I like it. It’s good. I don’t think I’m really far enough in yet to see the comparisons yet with Tami Taylor. Where I stopped with the show is when she just starts working as a school guidance counselor. Before that she was a coach’s wife, and I’m not a coach’s wife so there was really no comparison. But I could see, with the start of her getting the job at the school, why people were comparing us. I’m flattered by that. It was a great show and a successful show. I love Connie Britton so I don’t have any complaints about being compared to Tami Taylor at all.

Over the past year, Last Chance U has had such an impact on a variety of people all over the world. How would you like yourself and the show to be remembered as the years go by?

I want my part and my character, if you want to call it that, in the show to be remembered [by] the passion, the passion I have for what I do and the passion that I have for those athletes as whole people. I didn’t care if they played a game of football again. I knew it was important to them and that it was their way out of the life, they wanted to make a better life for themselves and a lot of times [football] was their way out and that was a good tool to help them get out. But I wasn’t helping them because they had the potential to be NFL players. I was helping them because they were beautiful people and I wanted to help them contribute to society in a good way, whether they are playing football or not. And I want people to remember that. I want people to have hope. I want people to watch the show and inspire them to be better themselves, whether it’s just to be nicer to people or to get to know stories before you make judgement, whether it inspires you to be a good teacher, mom, to be a better coach, I don’t know. But I want people to, when its over, to sit there for a minute and think about themselves and their own life and how they can be better with whatever path they’re on in their own life.

I have a few more “fun” questions to wrap things up.  Why pencils over pens?

[Laughs] I love pencils. I love them because A: they have an eraser and you can erase your mistakes, which I think that’s symbolic in life as well as on the paper. Nobody’s perfect, we’re not all going to make 100; our first answer, our first draft is not always going to be perfect and I think its okay. I think its okay to erase, start over, re-do, fix, whether its on paper or in life. I like that aspect of the pencil that perfection isn’t expected. I also think that the pencil is what we first learned to write with. In kindergarten, no one hands us a pen. It’s a big fat, yellow, number 2 pencil. And I think that picking up that next big fat, yellow pencil every year is also symbolic of just continuing to put one foot in front of the other and continuing put forth the effort and move forward and a lot of times it starts with a pencil. I like that aspect of it. I also learned the other day, which I did not know, someone told me, and this has really impacted me and another reason why I love the pencil, is that if you write with pen and the ink gets wet, it runs. If pencil gets wet, it stays. To me, it’s also very symbolic of that pencil in a way, yes, there is an eraser but that lead is so strong. You would think of maybe the pencil being the weaker utensil, but in all honesty, that lead is so strong and so durable and stays on the paper, I think that is also a really good lesson in life. I just always have a pencil and I never really wrote with a pen when I was in college or high school. I always had a pencil so I guess I was just going with what I knew and it stuck.

I think some of my favorite scenes were the ones, in both seasons, when the players were just hanging out in your office, joking around, and talking about life. Why do you think your office is such a popular destination for the team to hang out?

I think that was intentional on my part. It was a strategy on my part, from the beginning, and something that I thought really hard about and really tried. I created it on purpose. I think they hung out in my office because I allowed them to be who they were. There weren’t all these rules. In season two, you saw me getting on them a little bit more because there were a lot more players hanging out all the time so it was louder, noisier and a little bit crazier. But I think that they knew that those four walls in my office were safe and that they could come in and talk about what they wanted to talk about openly and freely. I wasn’t trying to force them into being someone else. Yeah I was allowing them to be who they were, and I let them listen to their music and cut up. There was a time to get serious and then there was a time to just have fun, and I think I just allowed it to flow freely and they respected that and loved that and I think it was just a place that they felt comfortable. And when you feel comfortable, you’ll respect it and you’ll feel like you can be who you are, you’re going to go back and you’re going to sit in that environment. And I tried really hard to create that with them, and I think that it worked, and it’s how I formed the relationships that I formed with them because I allowed that space to be safe.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about the things we are so passionate about that it’s all we talk about. So what do you nerd out over?

Something that I nerd out over… gosh, I feel like I’m so busy that I don’t have time to nerd out over anything. [Laughs] I love food, I love to eat. I do nerd out over yoga. I am a yoga freak. I will read anything that has to with meditation, yoga. I’m fascinated by our minds and the whole mind-body-spirit connection so I nerd out over that. I nerd out over self-help books. I all the time have a self-help book in my hands. And I’m one of those people who highlights and writes in the margins of the book. I have a quote page in my notes section on my phone that I started years ago, and I have a hundreds of quotes. So when I see a good quote, I go to my phone and type it in my notes page. So I just kind of like flipping through that page and reading them and inspiring myself or other people. I guess I nerd out over our brains and our minds and how people work, what makes us who we are, how we operate, why we do the things that we do. That kind of stuff fascinates me.

Lastly, we see you leave your job at EMCC at the end of season two. Can you talk about what you’re doing now?

I am super excited. I am working for myself, which is a lot of fun. [Laughs] I like myself [laughs] so I like working for myself. But I have started a company called Ten Thousand Pencils. We call it 10KP for short. Basically, I can be hired by any athlete or coach or athletic program in the country to be Ms. Wagner to athletes everywhere. So if there is a high school athlete or junior college athlete out there who needs a little extra help or guidance or motivation or management, they can hire me to come on board and help them see their plan through, whatever that plan may look like. It is taking off in a huge way right now which is a lot of fun to read these emails I’m getting from people and read their stories and figure out how I can help them.

I am also on quite a little speaking gig run. I am in the car right now heading to New Orleans, Louisiana. I am speaking tomorrow at a NCAA conference there. So yeah, I’m doing a lot of speaking gigs which is a lot of fun because I love meeting people who are fans of the show and inspired by the show. When I get to go to these places and talk to people and they come up afterwards and you get to hear their stories, its just inspirational for me. I’m getting pretty booked solid. This morning I took some time to check some emails and I had about ten requests for speaking gigs just overnight. So constantly, yes, which is fun and I love it. A lot of them are athletic programs, high school teams, junior college teams, who want me to come speak to their teams or come to games and be on the sidelines and things like that, which is super fun. I will be doing that next year and then running 10KP. I’m just super excited about getting to work with athletes everywhere and programs everywhere and to see how different programs operate. I’m also being hired to train teachers and counselors. I’ll be in Detroit, Michigan, at the end of this month training some teachers and counselors that work at an inner-city school district on how to low socioeconomic at-risk students. So that’s fun for me too. I have an opportunity and we have an opportunity as educators right now, this platform has given me an opportunity to, we can go out and change the scope of our educational system and college athletics if we really want to right now.

You can follow Brittany on Twitter and on Instagram. Last Chance U Season 2 is available to stream on Netflix.